Jakhangir Shosalimov, a member of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU), and Tursunbai Utamuratov, head of the Karakalpakstan section of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), were detained last week in separate incidents.
Police arrested Jakhangir Shosalimov on September 4, after he had helped a journalist to interview victims of police violence in the Chorsu market in Tashkent. According to IHROU, he was then taken to the Shaikhantaurski District Court and sentenced to 15 days of detention for breaching public order.
The deputy head of the Tashkent Municipal Police reportedly told a journalist from the Institute for Peace and War Reporting that Shosalimov organized a riot that had taken place earlier that day in the Chorsu market. However, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Shosalimov simply escorted a journalist to interview a man who claimed that police several hours earlier had beaten his pregnant wife until she lost consciousness. The man also said the police beat him as well, and that a crowd at the market had intervened.
IHROU is the only registered independent national human rights group in Uzbekistan.
“This is a clear case of the authorities trying to cover up rights abuses in the country by intimidating human rights defenders,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. “The international community gave a lot of credit to the Uzbek government when it registered IHROU this past March. But the last wave of detentions has shown that registration alone is no measure of government tolerance.”
Tursunbai Utamuratov was also arrested last week in Karakalpakstan in far western Uzbekistan. According to HRSU, about thirty police officers surrounded Utamuratov’s house, arrested him, and searched his house. Family members told HRSU that police did not show a search warrant.
According to HRSU, Utamuratov is accused of tax evasion, however, the authorities have not officially informed the family of the charges against him. As of September 8, neither Utamuratov’s family members nor his attorney had been granted access to him in custody
In 1996 a court sentenced Utamuratov to five years of imprisonment on a number of trumped-up charges, brought in retribution for acting as a whistle-blower in local government when he was a civil servant. He was released after fifteen months, and then attempted to clear his name. He became a member of HRSU in 2001.
Prior to his arrest, Utamuratov issued several bulletins aimed at clearing his name of the 1995 charges.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of government harassment of human rights activists in Uzbekistan that include arbitrary detention, and arrest, unfair trials, and prison terms.
At the end of August, three other human rights activists were detained. Elena Urlaeva, also a member of HRSU, was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent in what appears to be an attempt to stop her human rights activities. Two other independent human rights activists, Polina Braunberg and Iskandar Khudaiberganov, were detained twice when they attempted to help a victim of police violence to carry out a peaceful protest and then again when they attempted to hold a press conference.
Another defender, Yuldash Rasulov, also of HRSU, is currently on trial on charges of “religious extremism.”