(Bishkek) – Vasila Inoyatova, an Uzbek human rights activist who died of medical complications on May 19, 2018, at age 62, made an unassailable contribution to Uzbekistan’s human rights movement and nascent democracy, Human Rights Watch said today. She was the founder and chairwoman of Ezgulik (Compassion)¸ one of Uzbekistan’s most prominent independent human rights organizations.
“Vasila Inoyatova fiercely defended human rights and spoke truth to power even during the darkest times in Uzbekistan,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Inoyatova’s commitment to human rights in Uzbekistan came at a great personal cost to her and her loved ones, but she always managed to pursue justice with passion, warmth, and a devilish sense of humor.”
In 1990, as movements for national autonomy and democracy were emerging across the Soviet Union, Inoyatova joined the political movement Birlik (Unity). After Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991, Birlik became one of the country’s leading opposition political parties with Inoyatova as its general secretary. She led the party until she formed Ezgulik in 2002.
Ezgulik is Uzbekistan’s only registered independent human rights group, with representatives and activists in all areas of the country. Under Inoyatova’s leadership, Ezgulik has reported on issues including forced labor, torture, access to justice, and the right to a fair trial, and conducted prison visits to journalists, activists, and others jailed on political grounds. Ezgulik was a vital resource for international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, often helping link victims of abuses with diplomats, reporters, and other nongovernmental organizations.
Following Uzbekistan’s Andijan massacre in May 2005, when Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters, Uzbek authorities arrested and imprisoned numerous rights activists and reporters, including many of Inoyatova’s Ezgulik colleagues. Despite enormous government pressure, Inoyatova continued to speak out about abuses and the Andijan massacre.
Near the end of the rule of Uzbekistan’s late president Islam Karimov, Inoyatova successfully persuaded Uzbek prison authorities to allow her and her colleagues to visit long-held political prisoners, several of whom had been isolated and without contact with the wider world for over a decade. After Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed the presidency in September 2016, the government began to release some political prisoners. Inoyatova travelled to meet many of them as they left prison, welcoming them home.
“Inoyatova’s untimely death is an immeasurable loss, especially at a time when there’s a possibility for the first time in many years to push for positive change in Uzbekistan,” Swerdlow said. “We owe Vasila a huge debt of gratitude for her courageous work and will keep her memory alive in the years to come.”