The younger brother of exiled Uzbek opposition leader Muhammad Solih has disappeared while in state custody.
With an election assessment team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Tashkent and world leaders in Istanbul this week for the OSCE summit, Human Rights Watch urges the international community to insist that Uzbekistan comply with the human rights components of its international agreements.
Human Rights Watch has independently documented a pattern of police arrest, detention, and harassment of family members of political activists and religious dissidents during the past six months. There is also a wealth of credible evidence that police routinely plant small amounts of narcotics or ammunition on persons whom they arrest for their political or religious affiliation.
Bekjanov is serving a ten-year prison sentence after being condemned in a politically motivated trial on fabricated charges of illegal narcotics and weapons possession. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that Bekjanov was arrested and tried solely because of his brother's political activity and prominence as head of the political opposition party Erk.
"The government of Uzbekistan professes to be preparing for free and fair elections, but at the same time it is locking up the opposition's family members and throwing away the key," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "This is no way to achieve democracy."
Authorities reportedly transferred Bekjanov from Urgench prison on July 18, but have failed to give his relatives any information regarding his current location. His relatives' own attempts to locate Bekjanov by going from prison to prison have proven fruitless, as prison authorities as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the regional prosecutor's office refuse to respond to their queries.
Solih was the only candidate to run against President Islam Karimov in the presidential elections of 1991. He was forced into exile in 1994, fleeing an arrest on fabricated criminal charges. He has denied the Karimov government's latest allegations that he was one of the organizers of the February 16 bombings in Tashkent.
Two of Solih's other brothers, Rashid and Muhammad Bekjanov, were tried and convicted along with four others in August in a politically motivated case that raised alarm in the international community. Although the defendants described the torture police used during interrogation to force them to incriminate themselves, the presiding judge ignored them and the defendants' own exculpatory testimony and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms.
Komil Bekjanov (age 47) was first detained by police on February 19, 1999, in Khorezm (western Uzbekistan) where they interrogated him continuously for three days. Questioning reportedly centered exclusively on the activities of his brother Solih. Officers reportedly promised to release Bekjanov and leave him alone if his brother would return to Uzbekistan to take his place. On February 22, police temporarily released Bekjanov only to arrest him again on March 31. This time, they reportedly planted opium and a pistol in his car in order to provide grounds for his arrest. Bekjanov, who worked as a farmer in Khorezm and was not politically active, has denied the charges of weapons and narcotics possession. After a three-day trial which Bekjanov's own lawyer was prevented from attending, on May 31, 1999, presiding judge Azad Karimov condemned Bekjanov to ten years in prison.
Uzbek police have arrested family members of independent Islamic leaders, as well as those related to political activists. During the summer, the younger brother, uncle, and brother-in-law of independent imam Obidhon Qori Nazarov were all sent to prison. Abdumalik Nazarov, the imam's youngest brother, was convicted earlier, in April 1998, on allegedly fabricated charges of possession of illegal narcotics. He too has reportedly disappeared in custody and has not been seen since the end of May 1999. Imam Nazarov himself was last seen March 5, 1998.
For Further Information:
In Tashkent, Acacia Shields: +99871-130-61-02
In New York, Rachel Denber: +1-212-216-1266