(New York, March 12, 2010) - The Uzbek government should immediately release a human rights defender convicted on fabricated religious extremism charges, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 9, 2010, in an appeals hearing that lasted only about 20 minutes, the Kashkadarya Regional Criminal Court upheld a 9-year prison sentence for Gaibullo Jalilov, a Karshi-based human rights defender and member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. The court rejected the appeal despite the apparent absence of any credible evidence of criminal activity and Jalilov's testimony during his trial that he was coerced into signing a false "confession."
"We are very worried about Jalilov's safety and well-being," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should release Jalilov immediately, drop the charges against him, and investigate thoroughly his possible ill-treatment in detention."
Jalilov, who already had a lung condition, was brought to the appeals hearing with a swollen eye, suggesting that he was recently ill-treated in custody. His relatives told Human Rights Watch that he looked very weak and that he could not stop coughing. After the hearing, Jalilov told his relatives that several days earlier a man had entered his cell and punched and kicked him repeatedly.
Jalilov, a pious Muslim, has been a member of the Kashkadarya Branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan since 2003. His work has focused on the violation of the right to religious freedom, and in particular, on the persecution of independent Muslims in the Kashkadarya region of Uzbekistan. At the time of his arrest in September 2009, he reportedly had collected information on over 200 arrests of independent Muslims in the region.
Karshi authorities charged Jalilov and three other men, Faizullo Ochilov, Utkir Sodikov, and Yusuf Bobomuradov, with a series of fabricated religious extremism charges and tried them as members of a criminal group with an extremist and separatist agenda. However, nothing incriminating was found during the search of Jalilov's home and the prosecution was unable to substantiate the charges.
The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan denies that Jalilov is involved in any extremist or anti-government activities and believes that he is being persecuted for his human rights work and religious expression.
"Jalilov's case unfortunately follows a well-established pattern of wrongful imprisonment of human rights activists in Uzbekistan," Cartner said. "He is only the latest victim of the Uzbek government's relentless persecution of independent civil society activists."
The Uzbek government also has a well-documented track record of unlawful arrest or detention of those who meet privately for prayer or Islamic study, who belong to Islamic groups not registered with the government or who possess Islamic literature not generated by the government, singling them out for no reason other than the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. Human Rights Watch has documented allegations of ill-treatment in a number of these cases.
Jalilov's imprisonment brings to at least 14 the number of human rights defenders held by the Uzbek authorities on politically motivated charges. They are, in addition to Jalilov: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Habibulla Akpulatov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Farkhat Mukhtarov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov.
In a closed hearing on January 18, the Kashkadarya Regional Criminal Court sentenced Jalilov and his three co-defendants to prison terms ranging from 7 to 10 years on charges of anti-constitutional activity (article 159 of the Uzbek criminal code), distribution of materials containing threat to public security (article 244-1), and membership in a banned religious organization (article 244-2). The prosecution accused Jalilov of having said that the government of Uzbekistan has a flawed anti-Islam policy while at the Navo Mosque in Karshi, where he used to pray.
During the trial, Jalilov testified that he had been coerced into signing a confession during the investigation and asserted his innocence on all counts. His three co-defendants reportedly also testified they had been ill-treated in custody.
Instead of investigating these allegations, authorities moved the trial, in advance of the sentencing hearing, from Karshi, where all prior hearings had been held, to Bukhara, about 150 kilometers away. Jalilov's lawyer and members of his family who had been attending the trial were not notified of the change in location and thus were unable to attend the hearing.
The court appears to have purposefully withheld scheduling information from Jalilov's lawyer throughout the trial. Jalilov's lawyer was not notified that the first hearing was scheduled for November 24, 2009, for example, and consequently, did not attend.
Jalilov was detained on September 5, 2009, around 10 p.m. as he was returning home from the house of Nodir Akhatov, a fellow human rights defender. Jalilov was forced into a vehicle by several men, two of whom were reportedly in police uniforms. He was initially held incommunicado, and efforts by his family and fellow human rights defenders to find out where he was were unsuccessful. On September 23, nearly three weeks after his arrest, Jalilov's father, who had inquired about his son's whereabouts, received a written statement from the Karshi City Department of Internal Affairs informing him of the criminal charges brought against his son.