Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2003 - Uzbekistan

Harassment against HRSU members continues72

Mr. Norboye Kholzhigitov harassed and threatened73

In January 2003, Mr. Norboye Kholzhigitov, president of the Ichtikhan section of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), in the Samarqand region, gave an interview on Radio Free Europe, in which he denounced human rights violations in the region.

On 18th January 2003, a few days after this interview, Mr. Hasan Alimov, his wife and his son, close friends of Mr. Kholzhigitov, were arrested for having allegedly stolen cattle. On 20th January, Mr. Kholzhigitov attempted to meet with the official responsible for the investigation. He could only meet a police officer, and he announced his will to serve as civil counsel in this case. The police officer insulted him, replying that a thief did not need a lawyer and that he could not provide any legal aid since his organization was not registered. Mr. Kholzhigitov was only able to see Mr. Alimov's son, whose face bore the signs of rough treatment. The son stated that his father had been seriously tortured.

On 19th January, approximately ten police officers burst into Mr. Kholzhigitov's home, threatening and insulting him. In particular, the officer heading the group said: "If you don't shut up, we'll send you far away, to a place you'll never get out of" and "Why do you think you have the right to defend human rights when your organization isn't even registered?".74 The police officers' words were particularly violent, sowing panic among the Mr. Kholzhigitov's family members.

Mr. Olim Tochev harassed75

An investigation (n° 2-59/2003) was initiated in the case of Mr. Olim Tochev, member of the HRSU, who was accused of beating his neighbor in Karshi. His trial was set for 14th March before the criminal court of Bakhoriston; however, on 13th March 2003, he was taken by force into a psychiatric institution. Without any medical advice prior to his hospitalization, and after being kept there illegally, Mr. Tochev was released on 15th March, thanks to the efforts of his lawyer Mr. Bakhtior Chakhnazarov. All legal proceedings have since been abandoned.

Messrs. Muradov, Hamraev, Radjapov and Utamarov freed76

Messrs Muradov, Hamraev and Radjapov, all three members of the Nishan section of the HRSU, and Mr. Utamarov, lawyer and president of the Karakalpakistan HRSU section, were sentenced to five to nine years imprisonment on false pretexts, in September 2002. The verdicts were rendered after a four-hours hearing.

On 29th April and 4th May 2003, the HSRU organized support demonstrations, asking the Supreme Court and the Tashkent general solicitor for their immediate release, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was holding its annual session in Tashkent . The authorities then promised to release the four prisoners, but no such action was taken following the departure of the EBRD representatives.

The HSRU organized repeated demonstrations, every day from 5th June to 23rd July 2003. Messrs Hamraev and Radjapov were released on 22nd July, Mr. Muradov on 24th August, and Mr. Utamarov was released on 4th October.

Interference with the HRSU Congress

The HRSU held its fourth congress on 2nd October 2003 at the American association Freedom's House's premises in Tashkent. During the working meeting, an elderly, handicapped woman, Mrs. Helena Arzoumanyan, burst into the offices and asked to take part in the congress. When those in charge informed her that she could not attend the meeting, since she was neither a member of the HSRU nor of a guest association, Mrs. Arzoumanyan refused to leave the premises. She only agreed to leave after the members of Freedom's House intervened. The delegates noted that a police vehicle was waiting for her in front of the building.

A few days later, Mr. Olim Yacoubov, son of the HRSU president, Mr. Tolib Yacoubov, was informed that a preliminary investigation had been initiated against him for beating and injuring Mrs. Arzoumanyan.

Despite the numerous testimonies provided by diplomats, and journalists for the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and the Free Europe and Voice of America radio networks, as well as from the Human Rights Watch delegates who had been invited to the congress, Mr. Olim Yacoubov is to go to trial in February 2004.

Threats and harassment following an information meeting

On 29th-30th November 2003, representatives of the OSCE and of the Uzbekistan forum for democratic forces organized a human rights information seminar for the HSRU Zarbdor division members, in the region of Dzhizaksk.

Mr. Kourbanov, HRSU president in Zarbdor, fulfilled all of the formalities for obtaining permission from the authorities to hold this seminar in the village of Buston. Following the orders of the security services, the regional council did not respond to his request. As a result, the seminar was held in a guesthouse. A few days later, the mayor of Buston publicly accused the owner of this guesthouse of welcoming "terrorists and wahabites".

On 11th December, an official of the general council announced that all those who had taken part in the seminar would be "punished". The next day, the Buston school's principal was ordered by the security services to summon four teachers who had attended the meeting. All four were required to provide their names and personal addresses and phone numbers, and were ordered to write a letter to the security services about the seminar and their reasons for taking part in it.

In mid-December, the daughter of the secretary for the Zarbdor HRSU, Mr. Abdoulfaïz Baratov, was fired from her job. The secret services then informed Mr. Baratov that his daughter would only be given her job back if he agreed to make a public statement against Mr. Kourbanov. Mr. Baratov, whose family is experiencing serious economic difficulties, resigned from his position as HRSU secretary after being forced to sign this statement. As a result of pressure from the local authorities, several members have left the association.

Interference with the freedom of movement77

Mr. Nicolai Mitrokhin, member of the Russian association Memorial, has been denied access to the Uzbek territory on two occasions. This activist, who has been working on the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan for several years and who regularly denounces the practice of torture in the country, was sent back to Moscow as soon as he arrived at the Tashkent airport on 18th January 2003. He was given no explanation. When he returned to Tashkent on the morning of 22nd January, Mr. Mitrokhin was arrested as soon as he arrived at the airport. The police confiscated his passport and his airplane ticket and detained him until the evening, claiming that a meeting would be held to pass judgment on his case. Finally, he was returned to Moscow without being given any official document certifying the order to have him returned.

Interference with the freedom to demonstrate78

Demonstration in Tashkent repressed

On 7th March 2003, approximately 40 women demonstrated in a public square in Tashkent to denounce the torture of their husbands and sons who are being held in detention. The police intervened, blocking all exits, violently beating several women and forcing them to get into a police car. Most of these women were released a few hours later. Two of them were required to pay a bond.

Shortly after this, a group of women, most certainly connected with the authorities, showed up and took aside three independent, foreign, radio journalists who had witnessed the women being dispersed. These women accused Mr. Youssouf Rasoulov, correspondent for the Voice of America, and Messrs. Khousniddin Koutbitdinov and Mirasror Akhronov, of Liberté-RFE, of beating the demonstrators, although none of the accusers was present at the time of the demonstration. The three journalists were then thrown to the ground and beaten by the men who accompanied this group. Their work equipment (recording equipment, telephones, and bags) was wrecked. The police, standing a few meters away, did nothing despite the journalists' calls for help.

Repression of a demonstration in Andijan

On 8th May 2003, some 60-70 women demonstrated in Andijan against the persecution of their husbands and children on religious grounds. The police unsuccessfully attempted to stop the demonstration on several occasions.

As they approached the Navruz stadium, the order was given to arrest all the demonstrators. The police acted with great brutality during the arrests, insulting and beating the children. Most of the women were forced into police vehicles and detained for several hours.

Harassment of Mutabar Tadjibaeva79

In April 2003, Mrs. Mutabar Tadjibaeva, a freelance journalist who has taken part in OSCE missions and regularly publishes articles about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan on the internet, was subjected to a widespread smear campaign led by the authorities. Several articles published on the internet described her as an "enemy of the people" who was "working for the West".

In June 2002, after being subjected to pressures in various ways, Mrs. Tadjibaeva was held in custody for 13 days for publishing critical articles.

Harassment of a defender's family80

On 28th March 2003, Mr. Abdousamad Ergachev, son of Abdousalom Ergachev, a lawyer known for his articles about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, was arrested by two police officers as he was returning home with a friend.

After being beaten and insulted, the two young men were taken to the police station, but were not informed of the charges against them. During his questioning, the 17-years-old Abdousamad was violently hit on the head, and passed out. When he woke up, the police started beating him again, shouting: "Your father is an extremist", and "This is an extremist's file".

On 30th March, Mr. Ergachev and his friend were accused of stealing a suit belonging to a certain Mr. Yoldashef. They were forced to sign a document admitting the charges, although they had never seen the man before. Mr. Yoldashef himself denied the allegations. He too was threatened and suffered violence. He was found at 5 a.m. the next day in a very serious condition. Abdousamad and his friend were released the same day, also in a critical condition.

Arrest, torture and conviction of Ruslan Sharipov81

Mr. Ruslan Sharipov, a freelance journalist who had suffered threats and constant repression for years because of his articles denouncing human rights violations in Uzbekistan, was arrested on 26th May 2003.

Mr. Sharipov was accused of homosexuality and paying minors to have sexual relations, under articles 120, 127-3 and 128-2 of the Criminal Code. The alleged victims were also taken in for questioning on 26th May, and held in custody for 4 days. The teenagers were no doubt threatened by the police to convince them to give evidence, as Mr. Sharipov always claimed he did not know them. Two of Mr. Sharipov's assistants, Mr. Azamat Mamankulov and Mr. Oleg Sarapulov, were arrested on the same day, and released four days later. On his release, Mr. Mamankulov said he had been beaten and threatened during his detention, to force him to testify against Mr. Sharipov at his trial.

Mr. Sharipov was not allowed to see his lawyer until 28th May 2003, in the presence of police officers. During the interview, he declared that the officers had beaten him, put a gas mask on his face, sprayed a suffocating gas into it, and threatened to rape him with a bottle.

His trial began in camera on 23rd July 2003, before the Tashkent Court chaired by Judge Ganisher Makhmudov. Only his lawyer, his legal representative and his mother were authorized to attend the hearing.

On 8th August 2003, Mr. Sharipov, who had claimed his innocence since the beginning of his trial, "confessed" his crimes. He dismissed his lawyer, asked for his mother to be denied access to the court, and wrote a letter to President Karimov, requesting a pardon for the articles he had published in the past. On 5th September 2003, in a letter written in prison addressed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Sharipov revealed that he had been forced to make these confessions as a result of further physical and psychological torture and threats against his family and lawyers.

On 13th August 2003, Mr. Sharipov was sentenced to 51/2 years imprisonment for homosexuality and sexual relations with minors. He appealed this verdict.

On 28th August 2003, his lawyer Surat Ikramov was attacked as he was leaving a meeting with Judge Makhmudov. Four masked men wearing military uniforms dragged him out of his car, tied him up and put a bag over his head. The men took him to a park in Tashkent and beat him with sticks. Mr. Ikramov was hospitalized as a result of his injuries. A demonstration in support of Mr. Sharipov, which was planned to be held the next day, was cancelled.

On 25th September 2003, the Tashkent Court rejected the evidences presented by the defence on appeal. The charge of "inciting minors to antisocial behaviour" (article 127-3 of the Criminal Code) was withdrawn, and the court reduced Mr. Sharipov's sentence from 51/2 to 4 years imprisonment. When he appeared at the hearing, there were traces of injuries on his face, which the police claimed were the result of a car accident.

Mr. Sharipov, who was awarded the 2004 Freedom Prize by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) on 25th November, did not benefit from the general amnesty granted by President Karimov on 22nd December.

Ruslan Sharipov decided to appeal to the Final Court of Appeal. However, the threats against his lawyers and the repeated physical and psychological attacks he has suffered in the past few months suggest that his life may be in danger. In his letter to Mr. Kofi Annan, Mr. Sharipov said he had been forced to write a farewell letter which would be used if necessary to make his death in prison appear to be suicide.

In early January 2004, he was transferred to the Tavaksai penitential colony in the Tashkent region.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

72. Idem.

73. See urgent appeal OUZ 001/0103/OBS 004.

74. HRSU requests to be registered have been systematically rejected since 1992.

75. See Open Letter to the authorities dated 12th May 2003.

76. See Annual Report 2002.

77. See Urgent appeal OUZ 001/ 0103/OBS 004.

78. See Open Letter to the Authorities dated 12th May 2003.

79. Idem.

80. Idem.

81. See Urgent Appeals UZB 002/0503/OBS 025, UZB 002/0503/OBS 025.1 and UZB 002/0503/OBS 025.2.


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