As you know, Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It is well established as an impartial organization that researches and documents human rights abuses. We have monitored human rights conditions in Central Asia since the early 1990s, and since 1996 we have maintained a representative in Tashkent.
On May 26, 2003, police arrested Ruslan Sharipov, an independent human rights activist and journalist whose writings have called attention to official corruption and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. On July 23, his trial – which the judge declared closed to the public – opened in the Mirzo-Ulugbek district court in Tashkent. Sharipov is charged with Article 120 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which punishes “besakalbazlyk” (homosexual conduct, defined as “consensual satisfaction of the sexual needs of one man with another man”) with up to three years in prison. After taking him into custody, police also charged Sharipov under Criminal Code Article 127 (involving minors in antisocial behavior) and Article 128 (having sexual relations with minors). If convicted on all three charges, Sharipov faces up to eighteen years in prison. Sharipov initially denied the charges against him, declaring that they were fabricated in an attempt to silence him and put a stop to his human rights activities.
A representative of Human Rights Watch visited Sharipov in custody, in the presence of police officers, days after his arrest. Sharipov told Human Rights Watch that police had beaten him and threatened to rape him with a bottle. In a letter from detention, Sharipov has also stated that police have threatened him with torture to force him to confess to the charges against him.
In a particularly disturbing development since the start of his trial, on August 8, 2003, after initially maintaining his innocence, Sharipov reportedly declared to the court his intention to plead guilty to the charges and to beg the forgiveness of the president. He further said that he waived his right to legal representation and requested that his mother—the only observer from the defense side allowed in the courtroom—be barred from further proceedings. Given the past threats of torture against Sharipov and the fact that his recent courtroom declarations run counter to his own self-interest in presenting his defense, Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that Sharipov has been tortured in custody and that he was forced to make a self-incriminating statement and waive his rights. We remain concerned that Sharipov is at continued risk of physical and psychological abuse in police custody today.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of official harassment of Ruslan Sharipov. In March 2002, we expressed our concern about three attacks on Sharipov during the first months of that year. In one such attack, after Sharipov published a critical article, police stopped him on the street, forced him into a car, and beat him, demanding, “Aren’t you afraid to write articles in Uzbekistan?” We view the recent charges against him to be part of this pattern of intimidation aimed at curbing his human rights activities.
We urge the government of Uzbekistan to stop the politically motivated trial of Ruslan Sharipov; drop the charges under Article 120; and release him pending an impartial, independent review of the remaining charges against him. Human Rights Watch condemns his arrest as an effort to suppress free speech in Uzbekistan and as flagrant discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation.
In addition and as a matter of priority, we call on the leadership of Uzbekistan to reform discriminatory laws banning homosexuality. Article 120 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code derives from a provision banning male homosexual conduct that was introduced into the Soviet Union’s laws under Joseph Stalin. Most successor states to the Soviet Union have repealed this provision. Only Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are known to retain it. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has found that laws punishing adult consensual homosexual acts violate the ICCPR. The Committee holds that such laws violate guarantees of non-discrimination and privacy enshrined in the ICCPR; it considers “sexual orientation” a status protected from discrimination by the ICCPR’s Articles 2 and 26. As you are aware, Uzbekistan ratified the ICCPR in1996.
On a number of occasions in the past, the government of Uzbekistan has remedied miscarriages of justice when rights defenders were wrongly persecuted. Most notable were the releases of defenders Mahbuba Kosymova and Ismail Adylov, who spent one year and a year and a half in prison, respectively. It is our expectation and sincere hope that Ruslan Sharipov will not have to endure such hardship on these unjustified charges. Human Rights Watch looks forward to a speedy resolution of this case and to the repeal of Article 120 of the Criminal Code.
Thank you in advance for your attention to the concerns raised in this letter.
Europe and Central Asia Division