Local human rights defenders play a crucial role in promoting the rule of law. They are a lifeline of information, tying victims of government abuse to the rest of society, and providing the first recourse for victims in their search for redress and justice. Since their emergence in 1992, human rights defenders in Uzbekistan have worked under the pressure of rigorous government surveillance and harassment. The government of Uzbekistan since February 1999 has intensified its efforts to intimidate, silence, and punish those who expose abuses, to stop the flow of information to the international community, and to prevent international scrutiny of its disastrous human rights record. The crackdown began in the wake of the bombing of several government buildings in Tashkent that month.
As a result of the campaign against rights defenders, some of the most dedicated and outspoken promoters of human rights have been silenced. In 1999 alone, two leading activists were sentenced to prison terms, and one, jailed since 1998, died in custody. Police officers brutally beat activists upon detention and during interrogation sessions. Police investigators and a judge threatened activists with arrest, and subjected rights workers to intense and repeated interrogation. Officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied activists their rights to due process and access to medical treatment. They unlawfully confiscated property and fabricated evidence. Authorities used threats, intimidation, and, in one 1998 case, torture, to force activists to confess to false charges, to convince them to disclose information on human rights complainants or other human rights workers, or to compel them to abandon their work for human rights. They also intimidated and harassed family members of defenders, with the same aim. Prison officials subjected at least one convicted defender to severe psychological abuse and deprived others of necessary medical assistance.
Local authorities also organized public meetings designed to discredit, humiliate, and frighten human rights workers. These meetings, described by one foreign observer as "hate rallies," recalled some of the darkest days of Soviet public denunciations.