Covering events from January - December 2004

Hundreds of men and women, said to be either devout Muslims or their relatives, were arbitrarily detained following a series of explosions and attacks on police checkpoints in March and April and three suicide bombings in July. Scores of men and dozens of women, all accused of "terrorism"-related offences, were sentenced after unfair trials to long prison terms for their alleged participation in the violence. Evidence reportedly obtained under torture was routinely admitted in court and there was no presumption of innocence. Death sentences and secret executions continued on a large scale, bucking the regional trend towards abolition.


A series of suicide bombings against the US and Israeli embassies as well as the state prosecutor's office killed six people and injured at least nine others in the capital Tashkent on 30 July. These followed a series of explosions and attacks on police checkpoints in Tashkent and the city of Bukhara between 28 March and 1 April, which killed more than 40 people – mostly police officers and alleged attackers. Uzbek authorities blamed the violence on "Islamic extremists", including the banned armed group the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamist opposition party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which they accused of intending to destabilize the country. Hizb-ut-Tahrir denied involvement in the violence. On 9 April the General Prosecutor announced that over 700 people had been questioned in connection with the March-April violence and that 54 suspects had been arrested, of whom 45 had been charged with "terrorism", including 15 women. He also blamed the bombings on a previously unknown Islamist group, Zhamoat (Society). Seventeen women and 63 men were detained in connection with the July bombings. However, local human rights organizations continued to report sweeping arbitrary detentions across the country of men and women said to be either devout Muslims or their relatives.

The authorities linked the attacks to Uzbekistan's participation in the US-led "war on terror" and claimed that members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Zhamoat had been trained in al-Qa'ida camps in Waziristan, Pakistan. A special commission headed by President Karimov oversaw the investigations into the violence.

In June, during the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional "anti-terrorist" centre was opened in Tashkent. The centre was to coordinate the fight of SCO member states – China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – against the so-called "three evils of extremism, separatism and terrorism" as part of the "war on terror". During the two-day summit in Tashkent, Uzbek law enforcement forces prevented demonstrators from protesting against human rights violations in Uzbekistan.

Despite Uzbekistan's cooperation in the US-led "war on terror", the US State Department in July decided to stop aid to Uzbekistan. The State Department said that the US Secretary of State was unable to certify that the Uzbek government had made "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting its commitments made to the USA under the joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework, signed in March 2002. This followed an unprecedented decision in April by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to cut aid and investment because of the Uzbek government's failure to meet the EBRD's human rights benchmarks. However, the Uzbek government continued to receive substantial military aid from the US Department of Defense.

On 1 November, in an unprecedented move, thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in the city of Kokand in violent protests against new restrictive trade regulations.

Independent opposition political parties such as Erk and Birlik were unsuccessful in registering ahead of the 26 December parliamentary election. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the election as falling "significantly short of... international standards for democratic elections."

'Terrorism'-related trials

On 26 July a first group of 15 defendants went on trial before the Supreme Court in Tashkent charged with "anti-state" offences, "terrorism" and membership of illegal religious groups in relation to the March-April violence. Although President Karimov had pledged that the "terrorism trials" would be open and conform to international fair trial standards, the Procurator General published a letter the same day declaring all 15 defendants guilty as charged, thereby denying them presumption of innocence.

Although the defendants in this first trial did not raise torture allegations in court, pleaded guilty and asked for forgiveness, this was not the case in most subsequent trials of those accused of "terrorism". Most of the defendants were not granted adequate access to a lawyer in pre-trial detention and several had been held incommunicado. All were presumed guilty before trial and the majority reportedly were not offered adequate time or resources to mount a defence.

  • Nilufar Khaidarova went on trial in Tashkent on 6 September as part of a second group of 15 people, including seven other women, accused of participation in the March-April violence. Along with most of the defendants, she pleaded not guilty to all the charges. She stated in court that during a recess of the trial she had been visited in the investigation-isolation prison (SIZO) in Tashkent by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) who threatened her with violence if she disclosed that she had been beaten and ill-treated in detention. The court did not investigate any of the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and found all of the defendants guilty. Nilufar Khaidarova was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. In November her sentence was reduced on appeal to four years.

According to reports, Nilufar Khaidarova and her parents had been awakened at 5.30am on 5 April at their home in Tashkent by 20 uniformed police officers, who took them to the Chilanzar district police station still dressed in their nightclothes. The officers searched the premises, causing serious damage, and said they found "Islamic fundamentalist" materials. At the police station Nilufar Khaidarova and her parents were interrogated separately and then taken to the Tashkent City Department of Internal Affairs (GUVD). Nilufar Khaidarova was allegedly beaten by two police officers. Her parents were released without charge the following evening. The GUVD reportedly refused to acknowledge to the parents that Nilufar Khaidarova was in detention or to provide any information on her whereabouts.

In June the Uzbek Ambassador to the UK said that Nilufar Khaidarova had been charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in relation to the March-April violence and that she was being detained at the number 1 SIZO in Tashkent. He said she had been granted regular access to her lawyer and that her mother had visited her several times. She had also reportedly been visited by staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to other sources, however, she had not had regular access to her lawyer, nor had her mother been able to visit her before June.

There was concern that Nilufar Khaidarova was detained because her two brothers and husband, all devout Muslims, were serving long prison sentences for "anti-state" activities and membership of banned religious organizations.

Death penalty

President Karimov stated at a press conference in December that between 50 and 60 people were sentenced to death in 2004. Death sentences were passed within a criminal justice system seriously flawed by widespread corruption and the failure of courts to investigate allegations of torture.

Death row prisoners and their relatives were not informed of the date of execution in advance, and the location of the burial sites of executed prisoners remained secret, constituting cruel and inhuman treatment of relatives.

Comprehensive statistics on the number of death sentences and executions remained a secret, making it impossible to verify government statements that the number of death sentences had decreased.

At least three death sentences highlighted by the international community were commuted to prison terms. At least four prisoners were executed while their cases were under consideration by the UN Human Rights Committee, despite Uzbekistan's commitments under the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This brought the total number of such cases to at least 14.

Prison conditions on death row continued to fall far short of international standards. There were allegations that death row prisoners were regularly beaten and not allowed outdoor exercise.

The authorities continued to harass and intimidate anti-death penalty activists and their relatives, and to prevent public debate about the death penalty.

  • In February, Azizbek Karimov was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on charges including "terrorism" and setting up or participating in a "religious extremist organization". His family was reportedly not permitted to see him for several months after his arrest. It was also alleged that he was tortured and ill-treated while held in the detention facilities of the Security Service in Tashkent. In June the UN Human Rights Committee urged the Uzbek authorities to stay his execution following allegations that his arrest and sentencing violated key principles of international law. However, Azizbek Karimov was executed in secret in August.

Human rights defender Ruslan Sharipov

Ruslan Sharipov, a 26-year-old correspondent for the Russian news agency PRIMA and chairman of the unregistered human rights organization Civic Assistance (Grazhdanskoe sodeystvye), was granted political asylum in the USA in October. He had been convicted in August 2003 on charges of homosexuality and having sex with minors in August 2003 and sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

Ruslan Sharipov had always insisted that the charges against him were fabricated because of his critical reporting and human rights work. He said that the court had ignored forensic medical evidence that exonerated him, and alleged that he was tortured into changing his plea to guilty. He said he was threatened with rape and suffocation, had a gas mask put over his head and the air supply turned off, and was injected with an unknown substance.

In June a district court in Tashkent reviewed Ruslan Sharipov's prison sentence in secret and reduced it to two years' community service in the city of Bukhara. He had been transferred in March from the penal colony in Tavaksay to the more relaxed regime at a so-called colony settlement in Tashkent region. In an open letter published after he arrived in the USA, Ruslan Sharipov explained that he fled Uzbekistan in June with the tacit agreement of the Uzbek authorities during his transfer from Tashkent to Bukhara. He claimed that he was given the choice between leaving the country or being sent back to prison.

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.