Amnesty International Report 2006 - Uzbekistan
|Publication Date||23 May 2006|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Uzbekistan, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7bd3e.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The security forces allegedly killed hundreds of unarmed men, women and children when they fired indiscriminately and without warning on a crowd in the eastern city of Andizhan in May. The government rejected international calls for an independent international investigation and attempted to block all but official reports of the killings. Hundreds of demonstrators were detained and reportedly ill-treated, and witnesses were intimidated. Journalists and human rights defenders were harassed, beaten and detained and some were prisoners of conscience held on serious criminal charges. Following unfair trials, at least 73 people were convicted of "terrorist" offences and sentenced to between 12 and 22 years' imprisonment for their alleged participation in the unrest. Dozens of people were believed to have been sentenced to death and executed. A presidential decree promised abolition of the death penalty in 2008.
In response to Uzbekistan's refusal to allow an independent international investigation of the May killings in Andizhan, the European Union (EU) in November announced an embargo on EU arms sales and military transfers to Uzbekistan, and a one-year visa ban on 12 senior government ministers and officials. However, the Minister of Internal Affairs was granted an exception on humanitarian grounds to receive medical treatment in Germany. In turn the authorities in Uzbekistan banned European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from using their airspace and asked all, apart from Germany, to withdraw their troops from Termez airbase. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, put forward by the EU, expressing deep regret over Uzbekistan's refusal to allow an international investigation and urging the authorities to stop their "harassment and detention of eyewitnesses".
Also in November the US military completed its withdrawal from Khanabad airbase, as requested by the Uzbekistani authorities. The airbase had been leased since October 2001 as part of the US-led "war on terror". On 14 November, the government signed a mutual defence agreement with the Russian Federation that would allow Russian use of military facilities in Uzbekistan.
On 11 February, 23 business entrepreneurs prominent in Islamic charitable work went on trial at the Altinkul District Court, Andizhan. They were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, membership of an illegal religious organization, and possessing or distributing literature that threatened public safety. Arrested between June and August 2004, the men were accused of being members of a group seeking to establish an Islamic state and linked to the banned Islamist opposition party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, categorized as a "terrorist" organization in Uzbekistan. The authorities named the supposed group "Akramia" after its alleged founder, Akram Yuldashev, serving a 17-year prison sentence for "terrorism" and other anti-state charges imposed in 1999. The 23 consistently denied the charges or membership of any group. They appeared to have been held almost completely incommunicado in pre-trial detention. They said they were repeatedly threatened, subjected to physical, sexual and mental torture and ill-treatment, and forced to sign incriminating statements under duress.
Other individuals were arrested and charged in connected cases.
- In February, nine men – all employees of one of the 23 entrepreneurs, who owned a furniture company in Tashkent – were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and membership of an illegal religious organization. In July, three of them were sentenced to between 15 and a half and 16 years in prison after an unfair trial. They were among 20 employees detained in September 2004 and reportedly coerced into saying they were Akramia leaders in Tashkent. The fate of the remaining detainees was not known.
- In another case, a group of 13 men were reportedly arrested in Andizhan on 23 and 24 January, and charged with similar offences.
13 May killings
During the night of 12 to 13 May, unidentified armed men broke into military barracks and the prison in Andizhan, reportedly freeing the 23 entrepreneurs and hundreds of other prisoners, and occupying the regional government building. In the course of the day, thousands of people gathered in the main square, reportedly to demand justice and an end to poverty. According to the authorities, civilians took hostage a number of officials, and gunfire was exchanged between armed men and the security forces. Throughout 13 May the security forces reportedly fired sporadically on the mostly unarmed and peaceful crowd. In the early evening, after surrounding the protesters with buses, armed personnel carriers and other barriers, the troops fired indiscriminately and without warning, killing and wounding as many as 300 and possibly up to 500 people, eyewitnesses said. Relatives were not allowed to visit the wounded taken to hospital.
The same night, hundreds of people fled across the border to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, walking in large groups. The authorities said most did not go voluntarily but were forced at gunpoint to be human shields for the armed insurgents. Refugees in Kyrgyzstan insisted they had not been coerced, and reported that Uzbekistani troops opened fire without warning as they approached the border village of Teshik Tosh, killing at least eight people and wounding others, including women (see Kyrgyzstan entry).
The authorities said that 187 people were killed on 13 May, and denied that troops had used excessive force or killed civilians, including women and children. At the end of 2005, the government had yet to publish the names of those killed. Although a parliamentary commission of inquiry was established, its members were closely allied to President Karimov, and reportedly did not carry out their own investigation but simply reviewed the findings of the criminal investigation. The inquiry failed to meet international standards for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation, and the government refused demands for an international inquiry. Although the trial began in December of 12 police officers charged with negligence in connection with the Andizhan events, by the end of 2005 no members of the security forces responsible for human rights abuses had been brought to justice.
Extradition requests and forcible returns
Following the 13 May killings, the authorities requested the extradition of suspected supporters of Akramia and Hizb-ut-Tahrir from Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. On 16 June the Prosecutor General's Office said it was seeking the extradition from Kyrgyzstan of 131 refugees who were "direct participants in the acts of terrorism [in Andizhan]".
- On 9 June, Dilshod Gadzhiev, Tavakkal Gadzhiev, Muhammad Kadirov and Abdubais (Gasan) Shakirov were forcibly taken from a refugee camp at Besh-Kana to a detention centre in the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan, and handed over to Uzbekistani security forces. The four men were reportedly detained incommunicado, and at least one of them was tortured, in Andizhan prison after their return to Uzbekistan. The Uzbekistani authorities told the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that the four had returned "voluntarily" and were held in a detention facility in Tashkent, but denied the UNHCR access to them.
- Russian law enforcement officers detained 14 ethnic Uzbek men in Ivanovo in the Russian Federation on 18 June, allegedly for swearing and refusing to show their identity documents. The Uzbekistani authorities requested their extradition for involvement in the 13 May events, supporting Akramia, and financing "terrorist" activities. All the men denied the accusations. A Russian citizen among them said he had visited Uzbekistan in May only to renew his Uzbekistani passport, and was released on 11 October. The other 13, a Kyrgyzstani national and 12 Uzbekistani nationals, applied for asylum in the Russian Federation in August but were still in custody at the end of 2005.
Unfair trials of 13 May suspects
Hundreds of people suspected of involvement in the 13 May events were detained, and many were allegedly ill-treated or tortured. In June, the Prosecutor General said that 102 detainees had been charged. The charges included "terrorism" and premeditated, aggravated murder – capital offences – as well as attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and organizing mass disturbances.
The first group of 15 defendants went on trial on 20 September. Access to the courtroom was restricted: a local independent human rights organization was allowed an observer, but the government refused a request by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to send observers. Subsequently, at least four closed trials reportedly started in November. All were unfair. Most detainees were believed to have been held incommunicado before trial and denied access to lawyers of their choice, relatives or medical assistance. The identity of the defendants, the charges against them, and the dates and locations of their trials were not notified to their relatives. International observers, human rights activists and families were denied access to all four trials, which were held in different locations outside Tashkent. In early December, 58 defendants were sentenced to terms of imprisonment from 12 to 22 years.
- The first trial, of 15 defendants including Tavakkal Gadzhiev, opened on 20 September before the Supreme Court in Tashkent. Access to the court was restricted. Relatives of the defendants, without notice of the trial, had not been able to apply to attend. The defendants pleaded guilty to charges of "terrorism" and asked for forgiveness, but there were concerns that their confessions, which followed closely the wording of the charges, had been extracted under duress. Government officials and the national media made prejudicial statements that presumed the guilt of the defendants. Most defendants had been held incommunicado and none was granted adequate access to a lawyer of his choice in pre-trial detention. There was no cross-examination of defendants or witnesses, and contradictions in the testimonies were not addressed. Witnesses for the defence faced intimidation. Out of hundreds of witnesses who testified, only one, Makhbuba Zokirova, told the court she had seen the security forces firing indiscriminately at mostly unarmed civilians, including women and children, even as they ran for safety. She asked the prosecutor whether she would be arrested for telling the truth. National newspapers subsequently denounced her as a traitor and an accomplice to terrorists. On 14 November the 15 defendants were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 14 to 20 years. Their appeals against their sentences were pending at the end of 2005.
Clampdown on dissent
The events in Andizhan were used as a pretext for a further clampdown on political freedoms in the name of national security and the "war on terror". Scores of civil society activists, including human rights activists and journalists who had tried to document the 13 May killings, were threatened, assaulted, detained, forcibly confined to their homes, and had their telephone connections cut. A number of human rights defenders considered to be prisoners of conscience were held on serious criminal charges. The authorities denounced as traitors and hypocrites those who questioned the official version of events, restricted access to websites linked with opposition groups in exile, and blocked the broadcasts of Russian television stations critical of Uzbekistan.
- Prominent human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov was arrested on 21 May and detained. Initially held in police custody at the Andizhan Regional Department of Internal Affairs, he was reportedly transferred to Tashkent in July. His family and lawyer were denied information about his whereabouts. In November he was reportedly in an isolation unit at Tashkent prison, still incommunicado. Initially charged with defamation, punishable by up to three years in prison, in relation to an open letter about the case of the 23 entrepreneurs, he was subsequently charged with "terrorism" and other more serious charges. The real reason for his detention appeared to be his representation in court of one of the 23, and his reporting of the 13 May events, which received international media coverage.
The death penalty and flawed justice
Dozens of death sentences were believed to have been passed and executions carried out, but the government did not publish comprehensive statistics. The criminal justice system was flawed throughout with widespread corruption and a failure to investigate allegations of torture. The authorities carried out executions in secrecy, not informing relatives of the date of execution in advance or revealing the place of burial.
The EU strongly encouraged abolition of the death penalty at a meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Council in February. In March the UN Human Rights Committee deplored the execution of death row prisoners while their cases were still pending before the Committee.
- On 14 March, the father of Akhrorkhuzha Tolipkhuzhaev, sentenced to death on 19 February 2004, was turned away when he tried to visit his son. The following day, when a lawyer asked to see Akhrorkhuzha Tolipkhuzhaev, prison guards said he was no longer registered on death row. On 21 March the authorities assured the UN Human Rights Committee, which had been considering human rights violations in the case since May 2004, that he was still alive. On 6 April, his father received a death certificate stating the execution had taken place on 1 March. The Human Rights Committee described Uzbekistan's actions as a "grave breach" of its international legal obligations.
Under a presidential decree on 1 August the death penalty was to be abolished from 1 January 2008. However, without any moratorium on the death penalty or commutation of death sentences, scores of people remained at risk of execution.
AI country visits
AI representatives visited Kyrgyzstan in May, June and July to interview refugees from Uzbekistan.