Human Rights Developments
Uzbekistan retained its repressive grip on civil and political freedoms in 1994. The government arrested, beat, bombed and followed members of the Erk Democratic Party and Birlik Popular Movement, as well as Islamic leaders and human rights activists. Local and foreign media were restricted, journalists who criticized the government were beaten, and repression intensified against persons associated with Erk, the Erk party's outlawed publication. The government continued to refuse to register opposition groups, including Erk and Birlik.
However, the government's efforts to mask the political nature of its crackdown on the opposition suggested its growing sensitivity to criticism. Previously, security forces arrested most dissidents for political crimes such as treason and slandering the president. In 1994, however, the government increasingly lodged purely criminal charges, such as assault, embezzlement, and illegal possession of narcotics and weapons. Such charges portrayed opposition members as dangerous to Uzbekistan society rather than as political figures. The only substantive improvement in an otherwise bleak year was that the government did not seriously harass any local or foreign activists during the three-day Conference on Security and Cooperation (CSCE) in Europe seminar on democratic principles. which it hosted in September.
Unrelenting government harassment polarized the opposition during 1994, muffling local activists and radicalizing some in exile. Some activists called for cooperation with the government. In alarmingly familiar Soviet style, at least five leading opposition figures, all victims of past government repression (Uktam Bek-Mukhammedov, Shukhrat Ismatullaev, Abdunabi Abdiev, Abdulkhai Abdumavlonov, and Khamidulla Nurmukhammedov), publicly condemned their "mistakes" and resigned from political life. Abdunabi Abdiev's capitulation followed his release from prison in September; soon after his apologetic article was published, his brother Abdurauf was also freed from prison, strongly suggesting a link between his self-criticism and his brother's release.
In September, Human Rights Watch documented seventeen possible political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Of them, at least four had been arrested on charges of illegal weapons possession. On November 27, 1993, authorities arrested Birlik activists Akhmadkhon Turakhonboi-oghli and Nosyr Zakirov in Namangan, citing the discovery of a single hand grenade in each home. On February 22, 1994, law enforcement officials in Bukhara searched the house of Erk activist Nasrullo Saidov and reportedly found a single hand grenade in his child's room wrapped in a T-shirt. Witnesses asserted that the officials fanned out into all rooms of the house at the same time and planted the grenade during the search. On October 13, the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested Erk, Birlik and Islamic movement activist Dadakhan Khasan in Ferghana after allegedly finding several rounds of ammunition in his car.
In August, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki learned that the Procuracy brought additional charges_of willfully disobeying the prison administration_against political prisoner Pulatjon Akhunov, who is serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for narcotics possession and assaulting a guard. According to relatives who spoke with Mr. Akhunov, the prison administration frequently threw him into solitary confinement and otherwise punished him arbitrarily, although beatings reportedly ceased this year, and barred his lawyer from the prison. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes all charges against Mr. Akhunov were fabricated to ensure his silence.
Men wielding clubs and knives_believed to be paid by the government_assaulted numerous other outspoken leaders of the opposition during the period covered by this report, often threatening them to cease criticism of the Uzbekistan government. On December 7, 1993, on the eve of a human rights conference in Kyrgyzstan, men armed with knives reportedly broke into the Tashkent home of Mamura Usmanova, leader of the Birlik women's organization Tumaris, beat her and her husband, and took personal property. On May 17, 1994, a bomb exploded at the Tashkent home of Khamidulla Nurmukhamedov, a secretary of the Erk Central Committee. Two female journalists and the male interpreter of a foreign correspondent, all of whom requested anonymity, reported that the Tashkent militia beat and harassed them during 1994 because they had participated in interviews with dissidents.
Uzbekistan security forces also stepped up persecution of activists outside of Uzbekistan, most egregiously in Kazakhstan and Russia. On June 17-18, Uzbekistan law enforcement agents captured Murad Dzhuraev, former deputy of Uzbekistan's Supreme Soviet and former chair of the district council in Mubarek, Kashkadaria region, and Erkin Ashurov, an Erk member, in their apartment in the capital of Kazakhstan. They forced them to return to Uzbekistan, where they were imprisoned, it is believed, for their association with Erk newspaper. Uzbekistan officials also forcibly repatriated Birlik activist Vasila Inoiatova and a traveling companion from Kazakhstan in May.
Likewise, in Russia, on November 5, 1993, a gang reportedly beat Albert Musin, Iadgor Obid, and Abdurashid Sharif, political refugees from Uzbekistan and active correspondents, in their Moscow apartment and confiscated materials concerning their activities. On March 5, 1994, several men reportedly stopped the elderly Mr. Obid on a Moscow street, asked whether he was the Iadgor Obid who worked for Radio Liberty, and beat him. To date, the Russian government has failed to condemn these attacks publicly or to apprehend suspects.
Government censorship controlled the media as strictly as state-paid thugs controlled outspoken journalists. Only one Russian newspaper reportedly reached Uzbekistan this year, and it was censored. In apparent fear that its censorship practices would be exposed, the government barred Prof. William Fierman, a U.S. scholar, from leaving the Tashkent airport when he arrived in January to gather information about the national media.
The most obvious attack on the media was the banning of the newspaper Erk on November 13, 1993, and the sentencing of editor-in-chief Ibragim Khakkulov, two of his deputies and the newspaper's accountant to two years of imprisonment for alleged abuse of office and financial violations. When the newspaper continued to be published outside of Uzbekistan and distributed clandestinely within the country, the government launched a widespread crackdown. Dozens of Erk distributors were arrested between late February and June 1994, particularly in the Kashkadaria region, and in early September in Khwarazm province. Khamidulla Nurmukhamedov, secretary of the Erk party's Central Committee; Gabnazar Koshanov, secretary of the Urgench branch of Erk; and activists Negmat Akhmedov and Abdunabi and Abdurauf Abdiev were all imprisoned during this period. Individuals close to the cases reported that their interrogations centered on association with Erk, although charges were not known to have been lodged against any of them.
The government continued to abuse the fifteen-day limit to "administrative arrest" (detention without charges) allowed by law to silence dissent. In May, law enforcement officials detained activists Mikhail Ardzinov, Tolib Iaqubov and Vasila Inoiatova, tried them in absentia while they were in custody and convicted them to between seven and fifteen days for "hooliganism," preventing their participation in an international human rights conference. Dr. Iaqubov reported a new and bizarre twist to punitive detention this year. In the past, he and other dissidents were held in foul police lockups or pre-trial detention cells. He reported that in June, however, law enforcement officers drove him and at least four others to separate mountain resorts and offered to feed them while they waited out the visit of a U.S. senator in the capital.
Dissidents reported that surveillance was so heavy it was "useless" to attempt to engage in any but the most mundane public activities. A Tashkent activist reported that five cars continually surrounded the home of Birlik co-chair Shukhrat Ismatullaev, even though he had renounced political life; Vasila Inoiatova was apparently shadowed by no less than ten men at a time.
On July 1, the International Commercial Arbitrating Court in Russia found groundless an Uzbekistan court's 1993 ruling that former vice-president and current opponent of President Islam Karimov, Shukhrullo Mirsaidov, pay the equivalent of U.S. $5 million in restitution for alleged abuse of office. The decision gave credence to Mr. Mirsaidov's assertions that the charges were political fabrications.
The government continued to punish and intimidate prominent activists by harassing their relatives. On March 7, Maqsud Bekdzhan, the brother of Muhammad Solih, chairman of the Erk party, was arrested; Amnesty International received information in May that he had been released. Not long before that, reportedly false allegations of malfeasance by housing officials in Tashkent drove Mr. Bekdzhan and other close relatives from the city. Sherali Ruzimuradov, an eighteen-year-old student, Erk member, and brother of Erk leader Iusuf Ruzimuradov, was arrested on charges of illegal arms possession on June 1 in Karshi, after Iusuf escaped the custody of Uzbekistan security agents in Kazakhstan, where they had taken him against his will to force him to disclose the names of individuals there involved in distributing the newspaper Erk. Sherali had been detained and fined in April for possession of a book written by Erk chairman Muhammad Solih. It is broadly believed that Sherali Ruzimuradov was arrested to punish his more active brother and to extract incriminating evidence against him.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tashkent, beginning roughly in the spring, the Uzbekistan militia detained and deported some refugees from Afghanistan. Exact statistics were not available. However, a UNHCR spokesperson reported in October that in a representative case, Uzbekistan authorities had held one family, including six children, in detention for twenty days, seized their UNHCR refugee certification and on September 24 had deported them to Afghanistan.
The Right to Monitor
Human rights activism remained extremely risky during 1994. Local monitors reported that security agents followed them and otherwise restricted their activities. Punishment of three Moscow-based activists was more brutal, as noted above. As previously, the government refused to register the country's only independent human rights group, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. Moreover, the Foreign Ministry continued using visa restrictions as a pretext to prevent outside observers from entering the country. It thwarted a scheduled December 1993 visit by former Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov and a January 1994 trip by U.S. citizen William Fierman, an expert on media.
These patterns were interrupted in September, however, for the CSCE conference in Tashkent. The government not only did not detain dissidents, it allowed activists Jamol Mirsaidov and Vasila Inoiatova to address the conference without known repercussions. It also issued visas to all foreign participants. In a particularly hopeful sign, representatives of Amnesty International reported that they conducted work in Tashkent for about one week almost unmolested following the conference.
The Role of the
The United States' almost solo efforts to condemn abuses in Uzbekistan appeared to wane in 1994. Vice-President Gore's whirlwind one-day visit at the end of 1993 gave the government ill-deserved recognition without substantive rebuke, missing a critical opportunity to publicize the ample information on violations in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. In Jaunary, the unconditional granting of Most Favored Nation status in January squandered another opportunity to press for improvements.
As in the past, U.S. criticism was clearest when abuse involved representatives of its own government. Uzbekistan law enforcement officials detained at least six leading Tashkent dissidents in June until Sen. Arlen Spector left the capital. According to The Washington Post of June 4, Senator Spector publicly denounced the "deliberate pattern" of violations of civil rights in Uzbekistan and, in an open letter to President Karimov, stated that "the denial of normal contacts between individuals of our two countries creates a serious obstacle to closer relations."
At an international human rights conference in May, the deputy procurator general of Kazakhstan acknowledged that Uzbekistan security forces were engaged in surveillance at the conference, and sent two of them home to indicate the government's displeasure. However, Kazakhstan authorities turned a blind eye to other, more abusive activities. They did not prevent Uzbekistan law enforcement agents from arresting and forcing dissident Vasila Inoiatova and her traveling companion to return to Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan in May, or Murad Dzhuraev and Erkin Ashurov to return in June, suggesting that Kazakhstan law enforcement bodies may actually have deliberately facilitated this abuse of fundamental civil rights.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is dedicated to documenting and exposing violations in Uzbekistan in order to improve government behavior. In 1994 we gave particular attention to the existence and abuse of prisoners of conscience, and the need to protect political refugees outside Uzbekistan.
We wrote to the government and its parliamentary human rights commission about instances of abuse, such as a letter in May condemning the arrests of dissidents on their way to a human rights conference, and a summary of abuse, including a list of possible political prisoners, in September. We held two well-attended press conferences in Moscow about ongoing violations, one jointly with the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Central Asia, to maintain public pressure, and participated in the CSCE conference in September. There we urged fellow participants to strengthen international condemnation of Uzbekistan's appalling record.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urged the Russian authorities to register some ten Moscow-based dissidents from Uzbekistan, and pressed them to repeal local ordinances that jeopardized such newcomers to Moscow. We also assisted political refugees seeking asylum outside the Commonwealth of Independent States.