In the wake of the Andijan massacre, the Uzbek government is targeting human rights defenders and opposition activists for arrest, beatings and intimidation, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The government harassment of human rights defenders is a transparent attempt to hide the truth about what happened in Andijan,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of a government cover up in Andijan following the government’s use of excessive force against demonstrators there on May 13. Human Rights Watch has labeled the incident a massacre.
The Uzbek government has a longstanding record of harsh treatment of human rights activists and political opponents. In just the past two weeks, Uzbek authorities have arrested at least 10 human rights defenders and opposition activists in Andijan and other cities on trumped up charges. Others have been beaten by unknown assailants, threatened by local authorities, and placed under house arrest.
Officials involved in these incidents made specific reference to the defenders’ human rights activities, including their work documenting the killings in Andijan. In Tashkent and Jizzakh, numerous human rights activists have been questioned about the events in Andijan and threatened with arrest or criminal charges should they engage in demonstrations or other public activities.
On May 31, a coalition of Uzbek rights defenders issued a plea for help. The group wrote to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Parliament stating that persecution of Uzbek rights activists and opposition members has increased since the Andijan killings.
“We are deeply troubled by this growing crackdown on human rights defenders,” Cartner said. “The international community must intervene to stop this campaign and ensure the safety of human rights activists in Uzbekistan.”
Human Rights Watch has gathered information, including firsthand testimony, concerning 16 separate incidents of arrests, beatings, preventative detention and other intimidation of activists and opposition party members during the past three weeks, including many in Andjian province.
- On Tuesday, June 7, Andijan police detained Hamdam Sulaimonov, deputy chairman of the Fergana Valley branch of the opposition party Birlik (“Unity”). After searching Sulaimonov’s home, police seized his computer. He was interrogated about the distribution of a statement about the Andijan events by Birlik party chairman Abdurakhim Polat during a U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing on Uzbekistan in Washington on May 19. Sulaimonov was released on bail, but yesterday was summoned for additional interrogation.
- On June 3, police arrested Mizaffarmizo Iskhakov, a longtime human rights defender and head of the Andijan branch of the human rights group Ezgulik (“Goodness”). Police seized human rights publications and a computer during a search of Iskhakov’s home on June 2. Iskhakov was released on bail on Monday, but police retained his passport and ordered him not to leave the city.
- On June 2, Andijan police also arrested Nurmukhammad Azizov and Akbar Oripov of the Andijan branch of Birlik. During searches of the men’s homes, police confiscated human rights publications and computers containing a copy of the Birlik statement about the events in Andijan. Azizov and Oripov remain in custody.
- On May 28, authorities in Andjian arrested two members of the Markhamat district branch of Ezgulik: the chairman, Dilmurod Muhiddinov, and Musozhon Bobozhonov. They also arrested Muhammadqodir Otakhonov, of the Uzbek branch of the International Human Rights Society. Police seized human rights materials and copies of the Birlik statement about the events in Andijan from the men’s homes. The men are being charged with “infringement of the constitutional order,” “forming a criminal group,” and “preparation and distribution of materials containing threats to public order and security.” They remain in custody and are being questioned without the presence of a lawyer.
- Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, an outspoken human rights defender and chairman of the Andijan human rights group Appelliatsia (“Appeal”), was detained on May 21. Zainabitdinov’s description of the killings in Andijan was widely reported in the media. He remains in custody.
The government campaign against human rights defenders has also spread to other Uzbek cities.
- On Sunday, June 5, according to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), Uzbek security agents arrested Norboy Kholjigitov, a member of the HRSU, in the village of Bobur near Samarkand on charges of corruption. Kholijigitov’s whereabouts remain unknown.
- On June 4, police in Karshi arrested Tulkin Karaev, a human rights activist and journalist, and sentenced him to 10 days of administrative arrest. Karaev is one of the few independent Uzbek journalists who has covered the events in Andijan. The HRSU reported that pretext for the arrest was provided when an unknown woman accosted Karaev at a bus stop and then claimed that Karaev had threatened her. Karaev has been denied contact with his lawyer.
- On May 30, two unknown men in civilian clothing beat Sotvoldi Abdullaev of the Uzbek branch of the International Human Rights Society outside his house in Tashkent. The assailants had been monitoring the house from a parked car for several days in attempt to prevent Abdullaev from leaving his house. Abdullaev suffered a severe concussion as a result of the beating and was hospitalized.
- On May 29, 30 armed policemen beat and detained approximately 17 members of Ezgulik from the Fergana Valley area who were participating in a seminar in Tashkent, calling them “Andijani terrorists.” The activists were forcibly transported back to the Fergana Valley. The event’s organizer, Vasila Inoyatova, head of Ezgulik and a senior member of the Birlik opposition party, was detained by police together with her family. They were released the next day.
- On May 28, Samarkand police arrested Kholiqnazar Ganiyev, head of the Samarkand province offices of both Ezgulik and the Birlik, on charges of “hooliganism” and sentenced him to 15 days of administrative arrest. A group of women, apparently government provocateurs, attacked Ganiyev’s house and then brought charges against him when he asked them to leave.
- On May 26, a police official in Jizzakh came to the home of Tatiana Dovlatova, an activist with the Society for Human Rights and Freedoms of the Citizens of Uzbekistan, and aggressively demanded that she go with him to the prosecutor’s office. She refused to go unless provided with an official summons. The official then placed her under armed house arrest for the day and threatened to send her to a psychiatric hospital if she attempted to leave.
- On May 22, 70 people, including representatives of various government agencies, forcibly entered the Jizzakh home of Bakhtior Kamroev, chairman of the Jizzakh province branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. The crowd conducted a Soviet-style hate rally against Khamroev right in his home. They accused him of being a traitor for passing information to Western organizations, including human rights groups, and of being a “Wahabbist” and a “terrorist.” The authorities also pressured Kamroev to leave Jizzakh and made threats against his life and against his family.