Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

The Uzbekistan government's campaign to disband opposition groups and silence dissidents, launched intensively in the second half of 1992, continued in 1993, and was played out largely in the courtroom. Although the constitution adopted on December 8, 1992, enshrined many fundamental human rights and should have strengthened guarantees of protection in 1993, freedom of speech and religion and the right to form organizations continued to be violated. Uzbekistan's post-independence government continued to be run by largely unreformed Communist Party cadres who retained the previous era's de facto one-party rule and intolerance for dissent.

The government increasingly used legal mechanisms to silence dissent: by prosecuting leading members of the political opposition and religious groups and issuing ordinances closing organizations and political parties, it chilled free expression and association and put individuals who peacefully expressed criticism at risk of incarceration. At least eight prisoners of conscience remained in jail, and two more were believed to be in custody. Ten individuals, all of whom had publicly criticized the government of President Islam Karimov, were prosecuted and convicted in 1993 for criminal offenses, ranging from violating the "honor and dignity" of the president to illegal possession of narcotics. Approximately ten other criminal charges against dissidents were under investigation; others were suspended because the suspects were in hiding.

In all cases, the defendants were given prison sentences; all but one case ended in immediate release (in August, Pulatjon Okhunov, a teacher and local opposition movement leader, was sentenced to three years in a prison labor camp on narcotics and assault charges, which were likely to have been fabricated). In this way, the Uzbekistan government appeared to be showing "clemency" and avoided the stigma of holding many political prisoners. Such trials were merely another form of the repression of free speech practiced by the government under the guise of protecting law and order.

The opposition Democratic Party Erk (Will/Freedom) and Birlik (Unity) Popular Movement were the only political organizations legally registered to function in Uzbekistan except for the ruling Democratic Party (formerly the Communist Party). However, on January 19 the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan ordered Birlik closed for three months, and the headquarters of the Erk Democratic Party was sealed and party property confiscated in 1992.

In religious as in political activities, freedom of association was repressed. Although the right to freedom of conscience was enshrined in Uzbekistan's new constitution, and individual expression of religion was increasingly evident in daily life, the government continued to repress groups that attempted to organize on the basis of Islam, citing a 1992 ordinance. Thegovernment banned the Uzbekistan chapter of the Islamic Renaissance Party, and reportedly arrested its leader, Abdulla Utaev, in the last few days of 1992.

The government also banned Adolat (Justice), an Islamic group based in Namangan. In addition, it became known during 1993 that Adolat leader Khakim Satimov had been convicted the previous year of two criminal charges, which were believed to have been fabricated. Five individuals from Namangan reportedly were arrested near the Afghanistan border in what they claimed was an attempt to study in an institution of higher education in Afghanistan and make pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the government tried to prove a link between the defendants and Adolat, a connection the defendants and the head of Adolat reportedly denied. They were convicted on September 22 and sentenced to between ten and fifteen years of imprisonment on charges of betrayal of the motherland and illegally leaving the country; two were convicted on additional charges. The property of all defendants was reportedly confiscated. At least one of them, Khusnutdin Kubutdinov, reportedly claimed during his trial that he had been beaten in detention to extract a confession.

Article 54 of the new Uzbekistan criminal code, under which the men were sentenced, punishes both leaving the country "illegally" and failure to return, and carries a maximum sentence of death. Helsinki Watch denounced the arrests both for violating the right to freedom of movement and because charges were brought in a discriminatory manner.

There were no independent media for the twenty million residents of Uzbekistan. Newspapers published outside the country, including major papers from Russia containing articles criticizing Uzbekistan's repressive government, sometimes appeared in Uzbekistan with sections whited-out or with "offensive" articles replaced by advertisements.

Acts of violence against dissidents, already an established pattern, also persisted in 1993, including beatings and car bombs. On May 5, the co-chairman of the Birlik Popular Movement, Shukhrat Ismatullaev, was beaten on the street by unidentified assailants and spent six weeks in the intensive care unit in Tashkent suffering from head injuries. That attack mirrored almost exactly the attack on his counterpart in Birlik, co-chairman Abdurakhim Pulatov, in June of 1992. On October 4, Samad Murad was beaten in Karshi within days of his election as Erk's general secretary. No suspects had been apprehended in any of these cases as of early November 1993.

Tashkent police confirmed that on August 24 an explosive device destroyed the car used by Shukhrullo Mirsaidov, the former vice-president of Uzbekistan, who resigned in September 1992 after warning in an open letter that "democracy and a policy of openness are being replaced by an authoritarian regime." Mr. Mirsaidov and Shukhrat Ismatullaev were walking toward the car when it exploded, and narrowly escaped death. Several weeks later, on September 18, Mr. Mirsaidov and his son were beaten on the street; the elder Mirsaidov reportedly suffered multiple head injuries, a broken rib and several broken teeth. He claimed he was beaten by members of special security forces who had been following him for several days before his beating.

The Right To Monitor

Uzbekistan became the first of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) signatory countries to refuse to issue visas to Helsinki Watch representatives since the Soviet Union lifted its ban on our observers in 1987. Despite verbal agreement by the Uzbekistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry rescinded the promised visa support in April once Helsinki Watch representatives arrived in Moscow en route to Uzbekistan. Despite repeated requests, Helsinki Watch received no explanation for the denial.

Uzbekistan law enforcement authorities harassed, interrogated and expelled from the countrynumerous other foreign human rights observers, as well as several foreign defense attorneys and journalists. On February 22, security officials interrogated Helsinki Watch associate Alexander Petrov and Aleksei Tavrizov, a member of Memorial, the Moscow-based independent human rights organization, for ten hours following the two men's attempt to observe the trial of poet and Birlik activist Vasila Inoiatova, then forcibly escorted them to the airplane back to Moscow.

The fledgling independent human rights movement in Uzbekistan was severely restricted during 1992, and during 1993 functioned within very narrow limits. With few exceptions, all members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, formed in 1991, were also members of banned opposition movements or parties; thus it was not possible to determine whether they were persecuted – placed under surveillance, arrested, and prevented from leaving the country – because of their human rights activities or their political affiliations.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration was firm and consistent in public statements about human rights in Uzbekistan. But the U.S. government did not use its economic leverage by imposing the human rights conditions of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) agreement on Uzbekistan. Late in the year, the U.S. government was negotiating the trade agreement preliminary to granting Most Favored Nation status, which the State Department indicated it expected to grant to Uzbekistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent issued written protests on numerous occasions to express its displeasure with human rights abuses, such as several beatings and violations of free speech. The political officer at the embassy responsible for human rights concerns fulfilled her monitoring duties energetically, frequently attending trials in which due process was in jeopardy. When an Uzbek national working for the embassy was attacked on May 25, the State Department acted quickly and decisively, cutting short the visit of an Uzbekistan delegation on tour in the U.S. and threatening to consider freezing bilateral programs with Uzbekistan. The detention of at least one individual in connection with the visit of Ambassador Talbott on September 13 provoked both a formal protest from the embassy and a particularly strong statement by Ambassador Talbott that Washington would not provide economic aid if there were no democratic reforms in the country.

The U.S. Information Agency (USIA), however, sponsored a visit to the United States in March by the rector of Tashkent State University, who had been responsible for the dismissals of members of his faculty who had criticized the government. By sponsoring the visit, the USIA implicitly condoned abuses committed under his leadership.

As violations of human rights increased during the year, U.S. diplomatic and embassy staff increasingly became involved in incidents of harassment. Diplomats were removed from courtrooms; Uzbekistan nationals invited to meet with U.S. dignitaries were detained; and embassy workers were beaten before the eyes of U.S. diplomats. Despite this alarming increase in violations, there was no indication that the U.S. government used available economic leverage, such as the human rights language of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) agreement, which conditioned non-humanitarian aid on an improvement in Uzbekistan's record of repression. Late in the year, the U.S. government was negotiating the trade agreement preliminary to granting Most Favored Nation status, which the State Department indicated it expected to grant to Uzbekistan.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch responded to the escalation of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan by issuing frequent protests; by attempting to engage the Uzbekistan government in dialogue about itshuman rights record; by monitoring trials where due process rights appeared to be in jeopardy; and by increasing public awareness, especially within the business sector, of the nature and scope of these violations.

Helsinki Watch issued six letters and telegrams to President Karimov to protest trials in which defendants were denied their right to due process – most frequently, their right to consult legal counsel of their choice or their right to an open trial – or where criminal charges were brought to silence free speech. Helsinki Watch also spoke out against the beatings of dissidents Shukhrat Ismatullaev, Shukhrullo Mirsaidov and Samad Murad, and sent numerous appeals for the release of prisoners of conscience. Other letters by Helsinki Watch addressed the right to monitor: Helsinki Watch vehemently condemned the harassment and expulsion of its staff member from Uzbekistan, and in other letters attempted to clarify why requests to enter the country by Helsinki Watch representatives had been denied.

Despite obstacles, a Helsinki Watch representative attended two trials in the capital city of Tashkent: those of the poet and Birlik activist Vasila Inoiatova, and of members of the alternative political forum Milli Majlis (National Congregation).

In April, Helsinki Watch issued a newsletter documenting politically motivated dismissals from the workplace in Uzbekistan, primarily from institutions of higher learning. Numerous activist organizations responded to the newsletter by issuing their own protests. In May, Helsinki Watch published a comprehensive report on violations of civil and political rights in Uzbekistan. The documentation presented in the report, which was widely disseminated among international business and investment concerns, painted a disturbing picture of superficial stability masking profound domestic unrest. Helsinki Watch has urged the business and foreign aid communities to use the promise of increased economic investment to encourage an improvement in Uzbekistan's human rights record.

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