On May 14, the European Union for the first time called explicitly for the release of Uzbek human rights defenders who have been imprisoned since the 2005 massacre of civilians by government forces in Andijan. It also reaffirmed and extended its policy of sanctions against Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch has long pressed for the rights defenders' release, and we were among the organizations pushing for the sanctions’ extension. We provided comprehensive documentation of the government’s lethal use of force at Andijan and its subsequent efforts to silence witnesses and punish human rights defenders.
We used this documentation to conduct an intensive advocacy campaign in the EU to press for the release of the rights defenders, and convince the EU to demand concrete human rights improvements in their dealings with Uzbekistan. As part of this campaign, we also pushed for the release of Umida Niazova, a human rights defender and translator for Human Rights Watch’s Tashkent office who in April was convicted on politically motivated charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. On May 8—a day before a high-level EU delegation arrived in Tashkent and less than one week before the EU was due to decide on the future of its sanctions policy toward Uzbekistan—an Uzbek court released Umida, commuting her year prison term to a suspended sentence.