Tajikistan: Long Prison Terms for Rights Lawyers

Buzurgmehr Yorov.

Serious Blow to Independence of Legal Profession

(Bishkek, October 7, 2016) – A court in Tajikistan on October 6, 2016, sentenced two prominent human rights lawyers to long prison terms, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said today. The convictions of Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Makhkamov following a politically motivated trial, and harsh sentences of 23 years for Makhkamov and 21 for Yorov, strike a blow to freedom of expression and the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan. The lawyers should be immediately released and authorities should ensure the independence of Tajikistan’s legal profession. Yorov’s and Makhkamov’s sentences are the latest developments in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in the country, including on the legal profession. Authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and intimidated numerous attorneys since 2014, in retaliation for representing political opponents or their willingness to take on politically sensitive cases. Other prominent human rights lawyers have received death threats and been threatened with trumped up charges.

“With this prosecution, Tajik authorities are attempting to silence two of the most active and independent voices of Tajikistan’s legal profession,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Yorov’s and Makhkamov’s sentences strike directly at the independence of the legal profession in the country.”

A Dushanbe court found Yorov and Makhkamov guilty on criminal charges of fraud, swindling, “arousing national, racial, local or religious hostility,” and extremism following a trial in which the prosecution presented no credible evidence against the defendants. Yorov, formerly head of the Sipar law firm, had a reputation for fearlessness and is known for taking on politically sensitive cases. He was arrested within days of taking on the representation of the now imprisoned leaders of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was Tajikistan’s most important opposition party. It was banned by the government in September 2015, and later declared a terrorist organization.

On September 29, 2015, officers from the Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime arrested Yorov in circumstances that strongly indicate that the authorities targeted him for representing opposition party members.

At the time of his arrest, Yorov was representing several high-ranking members of the party who had been arrested on September 16. Yorov had also declared his intention to establish a committee for the defense of the arrested party members. The day of his arrest, Yorov gave an interview alleging that police had tortured one of his clients, Umarali Hisaynov (also known as Saidumar Husayni), the party’s first deputy chairman, in pretrial detention. The authorities attempted to pressure Yorov to drop the case. The party members he represented were sentenced in June 2016 to lengthy prison terms, including life in prison, in a closed trial that did not meet fair trial standards.

Authorities initially charged Yorov under articles 247 (swindling) and 340 (fraud) of the criminal code. An Internal Ministry spokesperson said that the alleged fraud occurred in 2010, when Yorov allegedly received US$4,000 from a resident of the city of Istaravshan. In December 2015, authorities added charges of “arousing national, racial, local or religious hostility” (article 189) and extremism (articles 307 and 307.1).

On October 22, 2015, the Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime arrested Makhkamov, a lawyer who also worked for Sipar, after he sought to represent Yorov. Makhkamov was also charged with swindling, incitement, and extremism charges. On November 20, after Makhkamov went on a hunger strike to protest his arbitrary detention, authorities placed him in solitary confinement for three days.

Authorities systematically interfered with Yorov’s and Makhkamov’s right to counsel and severely restricted public access to the trial, including for international observers, diplomatic representatives, and journalists.

“The Tajik government is tightening the screws on lawyers it deems trouble, locking up those who represent the opposition, and even those who represent the ones who represent them,” said Marius Fossum, regional representative at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Each day these lawyers spend behind bars is a disgrace and brings shame on Tajikistan’s judicial system.”

The Tajik government has also taken steps to extend its control over the legal profession, significantly curtailing its independence. In November 2015, authorities approved a new law requiring all lawyers to renew their legal licenses with the Justice Ministry, instead of the independent bar association or licensing body, and to retake the bar examination every five years. Lawyers told Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that the test, administered by the government, is being used to exclude those who take on politically sensitive cases. Prior to the changes, Tajikistan had approximately 2,000 registered lawyers. Following the passage of the new law, fewer than 500 are able to practice law in the country.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that they must be able “to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.” Furthermore, lawyers “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards or ethics.”

The United States, the European Union, and Tajikistan’s international partners should press the Tajik government to immediately release lawyers imprisoned and detained on politically motivated charges and to ensure that all lawyers are able to conduct their work without fear of threats or harassment, including arbitrary arrest or prosecution. International partners also should press Tajikistan to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, and expression.

“By locking up two human rights lawyers, Dushanbe is sending Tajikistan’s legal community an unambiguous warning to stay away from politically sensitive cases,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “Now more than ever, Tajikistan needs a strong and independent legal profession that can operate free of interference or fear of retribution.”


Central Asia’s civil society at 25 years of independence: Appeal for solidarity

Written statement by International Partnership for Human Rights; Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law; Nota Bene; Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights; the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia; the Voice of Freedom Foundation; and the Human Rights Movement Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan to the 2016 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
This year, it has been 25 years since the Central Asian states gained independence. With the fall of the Soviet Union, these countries embarked on a transition process, with great expectations for what it would bring in terms of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. However, the transition has proved to be far from as easy as imagined at the time. The current overall trend regarding the protection of fundamental rights in Central Asia is a downward one and while a free and vibrant civil society is a cornerstone of any democracy-aspiring society, the region’s authorities have increasingly tightened the screws on this sector.

The civil society climate is extremely repressive in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and there is little hope for immediate improvements in Uzbekistan in the post-Karimov period. While the situation in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is not quite as bleak, it has recently deteriorated in an alarming way, with national security arguments being exploited by the authorities to stifle free speech, curtail dissent and narrow the space for civil society. The current economic downturn in the region has reinforced this trend as the authorities, fearing more widespread discontent, have become increasingly hostile to criticism.

Yet, even when faced with this challenging reality, Central Asian civil society actors continue their tireless efforts to stand up for justice, dignity and rights and push back against repression. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: now more than ever, the region’s civil society needs the support of the international community. We appeal to all of you to join in on this cause using available means, whether that means re-tweeting this or other civil society appeals, participating in solidarity campaigns, speaking up on the issue at the HDIM or other forums, or intervening directly on behalf of individuals at risk.

Below we would like to draw your attention to a number of key concerns regarding the current situation of civil society in the five Central Asian countries:

This spring the Kazakhstani authorities resorted to repressive measures to thwart unprecedented wide-scale peaceful protests on land reforms and broader issues, which peaked on 21 May when people gathered in cities across the country to voice discontent. Hundreds of protestors, civil society activists and journalists were detained, and dozens of activists were fined or locked up for up to 15 days for participating or planning to participate in protests.

Several well-known civil society activists have been charged with criminal offenses in apparent retaliation for their participation in the land reform protest movement. Among these are Maks Bokaev and Talgat Ayan who remain in pre-trial detention and Makhambet Abzhan who was recently sentenced to one year’s restricted freedom, during which time he will be subjected to court-imposed restrictions. There has also been a number of other recent cases where activists, social media users and journalists have been charged with criminal offenses because of their civic and professional activities, in particular with the broadly worded offenses of “inciting” national and social discord and “deliberately spreading false information”. Among others, activists Ermek Narymbaev, Serikzhan Mambetalin and Bolatbek Blyalov are subject to court-imposed bans on their civic engagement after being convicted of “inciting discord” earlier this year. Political opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, who was convicted on “incitement” and other charges in 2012, was finally released on parole in August 2016 after spending more than four years in prison.

New legislation adopted in 2015 provides for increased government oversight of NGO activities and requires NGOs to submit information to a new government database at the threat of fines or suspension of their activities. The NGO International Legal Initiative, which has challenged the new reporting requirement in court and declined to comply with it, was subjected to an unscheduled tax inspection in August 2016. It linked this to its opposition to the new legislation. According to recent Tax Code amendments, all individuals and organizations receiving foreign funding for the provision of legal assistance, public opinion study or information gathering/analysis/dissemination are required to report this information and a public database containing such information will be created. It is not clear how exactly these provisions will be applied, but there are concerns that this will mean yet another reporting obligation for NGOs engaged in the types of activities concerned and that the publication of details specifically on foreign funding may stigmatize and endanger individuals and groups.   


The May 2016 vote by Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to reject the Russia-inspired “foreign agents” draft law was a victory for civil society, which had been campaigning against this bill since it was introduced in 2014. However, it cannot be ruled out that similar legislation will resurface and the discussion surrounding the draft law has reinforced negative and suspicious attitudes toward NGOs, with long-lasting implications.    
Public figures and media make continue to make discrediting statements about human rights groups and activists, with President Atambaev setting the tone in a speech delivered shortly after the rejection of the “foreign agents” draft law. In this speech, he accused leading human rights defenders Aziza Abdirasulova and Tolekan Ismailova of “working off their foreign grants” in support of a movement bent on toppling the government. He has failed to retract his accusations and a defamation lawsuit filed by the two human rights defenders has been rejected by court – they now plan to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Against the background of the current negative public perception of NGOs, human rights groups and defenders have increasingly been subjected to threats, pressure and undue interference into their activities. Those working to defend the rights of minorities are particularly vulnerable to intimidation.[1]

Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov continues to serve a life sentence for his alleged role in the 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, although the UN Human Rights Committee called for his immediate release and for quashing his conviction earlier this year. In a much-anticipated decision on Askarov’s case issued in April 2016, the Committee concluded that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied fair trial rights in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court subsequently reconsidered Askarov’s case, but failed to comply with the key requests of the Human Rights Committee: instead of cancelling his conviction and releasing him, it sent the case back for re-trial at Chui Regional Court. The re-trial is scheduled to begin in early October 2016.

Recently tax and other authorities have carried out a growing number of inspections and checks of NGOs with reference to national security concerns. For example, NGOs have been subjected to excessive scrutiny when seeking to re-register with the authorities, which they are required to do e.g. when changing their legal address, and they have only been granted re-registration with consent by security services. Several NGOs have been warned, fined and/or issued with lawsuits because of their alleged failure to comply with registration and other technical requirements.

New legislation that entered into force in August 2015 introduced a new scheme requiring NGOs to report information about foreign and international grants for inclusion in a special government registry. Implementing regulations that were finally adopted this spring set out broad powers for the Ministry of Justice with respect to processing reported information and concerns remain that implementation of this legislation may result in undue interference into the work of NGOs. This has yet to be seen as NGOs have now only started reporting information about grants, using a government-approved reporting form. 

Several prominent lawyers have been charged with criminal offenses in what appears to be retaliation for their professional activities. Among these are lawyers who have provided legal assistance to arrested members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), including Buzurgmehr Yorov and Nuriddin Mahkamov (who were arrested last autumn and whose trial on extremism and other charges began in May 2016) and Dzhamshed Yorov (who was arrested on charges of disclosing state secrets in August 2016). At the beginning of September 2016, it was announced that Shukhrat Kudratov, another lawyer working on high-profile cases who was imprisoned in 2015, is due to be released under a general amnesty proclaimed in connection with the 25 years’ anniversary of Tajikistan’s independence.
In its new Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020, Turkmenistan’s government has undertaken to promote “favourable” conditions for the registration, development and operation of NGOs. In order to deliver on this commitment, the government must take meaningful measures to enable independent NGOs working on human rights related issues to acquire registration and work without hindrance in the country. Currently there is no space for such organizations to operate and the government focuses on promoting the work of GONGOs.

Turkmenistani civil society activists, journalists contributing to foreign media and dissident voices continue to be subjected to intimidation and harassment – both in- and outside the country. Freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev was imprisoned on spurious charges of possessing narcotics in August 2015 and remains behind bars, in spite of calls for his release by among others the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Former independent journalist Chary Annamuradov was arrested in Belarus in July 2016 on a Turkmenistani arrest warrant, which was issued after he fled his native country 16 years ago and was granted refugee status. Thanks to active interventions on his behalf by the EU and other international actors, Annamuradov was eventually released in mid-September 2016 and could return to Sweden, where he resides with his family. If he had been extradited to Turkmenistan, he would have been at serious risk of an unfair trial, torture and imprisonment in life-threatening conditions. Dozens of individuals imprisoned on politically motivated grounds in Turkmenistan have disappeared in prison.

Several Moscow-based Turkmenistani dissidents have recently reported being subjected to attacks and Austria-based TIHR Chairman Farid Tuhbatullin has faced renewed intimidation in relation to his work. 

The sudden death of long-term dictator Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan has potentially created a window of opportunity for human rights change. However, the system left in place by Karimov is an extremely repressive one and reforming it will require huge effort and political determination to break with the legacy of his rule. It is imperative that Uzbekistan’s international partners makes systematic human rights reform a key priority in their relations with the post-Karimov leadership.    

Currently most of so-called civil society in Uzbekistan is made up of GONGOs, while the few independent NGOs working to promote human rights are marginalized and harassed. It is virtually impossible for such NGOs to obtain legal status and a wide range of government regulations and requirements hamper the implementation of NGO activities. 

There is a well-established pattern of persecution of human rights activists, independent journalists and government critics, who are subjected to surveillance, phone tapping, travel restrictions, questioning, arbitrary arrests and prosecution in retaliation for their work. Numerous activists, journalists and dissidents remain imprisoned on trumped-up charges. Torture and ill-treatment are rampant in prison and the sentences of those convicted on politically motivated charges are often extended when nearing an end because of alleged violations of prison rules.

Among those currently imprisoned are human rights defenders Ganihon Mamathanov, Nuraddin Dzhumaniyazov, Fakhriddin Tillaev and Azam Farmonov, former UN employee Erkin Musaev and Muhammad Bekzhanov, one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists who is due to be released this autumn after serving 17 years in prison. There are serious concerns about the health and well-being of these individuals and the sentences of some of them have been arbitrarily prolonged. 

Human rights activists monitoring forced labour are at particular risk of harassment. One of these activists, Uktam Pardaev was given a three-year suspended sentence in January 2016. If he is considered to violate the conditions of his probation, he may be imprisoned. Another activist and journalist monitoring forced labour, Dmitry Tikhonov was forced to flee Uzbekistan earlier this year due to persecution.

Human rights defenders who have fled Uzbekistan also face intimidation and pressure because of their engagement on behalf of victims of human rights violations in their native country.

On the basis of the issues described above, we could like to make the following recommendations:

The authorities of Kazakhstan should:
  • Reverse the pattern of repression in response to peaceful protests and, as a matter of priority, reform legislation and law enforcement practice on the conduct of assemblies to bring them into line with international human rights standards.
  • Stop prosecuting civil society activists, social media users and journalists in relation for their civic and professional activities; drop all charges against those prosecuted or convicted on such grounds; and revoke or revise the broadly worded Criminal Code provisions on “inciting” national, social and other discord and “deliberately spreading false information.”
  • Ensure that implementation of the new NGO legislation from last year and the recent Tax Code amendments requiring individuals and organizations to report on foreign funding are not implemented in violation of the right to freedom of association and other internationally protected rights.
The authorities of Kyrgyzstan should:
  • Closely consult with civil society on any new legislative initiatives affecting NGOs and ensure that such legislation is fully consistent with Kyrgyzstan’s national and international human rights obligations.
  • Refrain from using rhetoric that stigmatizes and discredits NGOs and activists, in particular by suggesting that their actions are threatening national security. Instead, publicly acknowledge the importance of their work, and ensure that they can carry out their work without hindrance. 
  • Fully implement the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in the case of Azimjan Askarov, including by releasing him, quashing his conviction and granting him adequate compensation.
The authorities of Tajikistan should:
  • Refrain from undue interference into the work of NGOs and ensure that NGOs can operate without intimidation and hindrance.
  • Ensure that the recent legislation requiring NGOs to report foreign grants is not implemented in violation of the right to freedom of association as protected by international standards.
  • Ensure that no lawyer is arrested, charged or imprisoned in retaliation for his or her work; promptly release those held on such grounds.
The authorities of Turkmenistan should:
  • Take meaningful steps to deliver on the commitment to ensure “favourable” conditions for NGOs and enable independent NGOs to obtain legal status in a fair and transparent process and to carry out their activities without undue interference.
  • Put an end to the persecution of independent journalists, civil society activists and others who criticize government policies, including exiled activists and their family members.
  • Immediately release all individuals imprisoned on politically motivated grounds, disclose the faith of those who have disappeared in prison, and allow representatives of the international community to visit prisons, as agreed by Turkmenistan’s president and the German chancellor during their recent meeting in Berlin. 
The authorities of Uzbekistan should:
  • Set out on a systematic program of human rights reform and cooperate with international human rights bodies and experts. This should include issuing a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, and facilitating country visits in particular by the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders and torture.
  • Allow independent NGOs to obtain legal status and to work without interference and invite them to take part in the elaboration and implementation of a new national human rights agenda.
  • Put an end to persecution of human rights defenders, journalists and dissident voices; and immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been detained solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

[1] For more information, see report on the situation concerning the right to freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan prepared by Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan for the 2016 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.


Putin expresses condolences after death of Uzbek President Karimov

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences following the death of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov.

Karimov died after being hospitalised several days ago. 

“His [Karimov’s] passing away means a heavy loss for the entire people of Uzbekistan, for the Commonwealth of Independent States and for the partner nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” Putin said in a telegram of condolences. 

“Islam Abduganiyevich [Karimov] was a highly authoritative statesman and a true leader of his country. His name is linked to the milestone events in the history of contemporary Uzbekistani state.”

The Russian delegation at Karimov’s funeral will be headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Putin’s orders, reported the RIA Novosti news agency. 

Karimov remained the Uzbek president for 26 years. He died after being hospitalised several days ago. 

There will be no change of the regime in Uzbekistan after the death of their president, and whoever is next to lead the country will follow the same path, according to an Uzbek opposition blogger. 

Nadejda Atayeva, who is the head of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, said the most likely successors to President Islam Karimov are two high ranking officials, Shavkat Merzyaev and Rustam Azimov. 

The blogger also spoke about the absence of any real opposition in Uzbekistan, as well as lack of freedoms and violation of human rights.


Kyrgyzstan: 10 houses damaged by fire

On 7 August 2016 a fire damaged 10 houses, private buildings on Shamshad Street in the Kara-Suu District of the Osh Region of Kyrgyzstan. The fire started around 20:30, within two hours three houses burnt down completely, the other suffered a partial damage. The total area damaged by the fire was 900 square meters.
According to residents, the fire started because of faulty wiring. Mainly ethnic Uzbeks live in the Shamshad Street. During the tragic events of June 2010, their homes were destroyed, along with the gas pipeline network. Since then the gas supply was not restored due to the high cost of the relevant works, and most residents have been using electrical stoves.

Firefighters arrived only after 40 minutes, explaining their late response by the fact that the residents
phoned the fire department servicing a different district. Only after the residents themselves came to the fire station and tearfully begged the firefighters to help them, the firefighters left for the residential area where the accident happened.

Three people suffered burns of varying degrees; two children were taken to the hospital. Residents of Shamshad Street M. Rakhmanberdiev, A. Alimov, K. Iminov and a resident of the Navoi Street S. Dadazhanova are especially in need of help. All the victims are ethnic Uzbeks.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA calls on the Kyrgyz government to investigate thoroughly the cause of the fire, and earnestly requests to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims.


We call on Turkey to stop the extradition of Abdurashid Khamidov - a citizen of Tajikistan

Turkey scheduled the extradition of a citizen of Tajikistan Abdurashid Khamidov a member of the "Group 24" for 5 August 2016. We appeal urgently to cancel his deportation to Tajikistan, where torture is systemically practiced.

Abdurashid Khamidov (date of birth: 15.12.1989), a citizen of Tajikistan. He is a member of an opposition political movement Group-24.

Mr Khamidov is persecuted by the country of origin for his opposition activities as a member of the Group-24. In 2014 Tajikistan proclaimed the group as an "extremist organisation" for the criticism spoken out by its activists. In 2015, Mr Khamidov applied for international protection at the UNHCR office in Ankara.

He has been under the arrest since 15 April 2016. Documents for his deportation to Tajikistan on 5 August have been processed.

Abdurashid Khamidov was a confidant of the leader of Group-24, Umarali Kuvatov, who was shot dead on 5 March 2015 in Istanbul. On 19 December 2014, Mr Khamidov was arrested together with Mr Kuvatov. We wrote about it in detail in our press release «Turkey: the leader of «Goup 24» Umarali Kuvatov is detained» dated 20 December 2014.

Tajikistan is persecuting Mr. Khamidov for political reasons.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia calls on Turkey to stop the extradition of Abdurashid Khamidov, because it would violate the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits torture under any circumstances. Namely - Article 3 of the Convention, which states: "No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia reported about Abdurashid Khamidov’s case to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the OSCE, the Amnesty International, the HRW, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee - NHC, the International Partnership for Human Rights - IPHR and the media.


United States takes strong stand against forced labor in cotton

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan downgraded in annual anti-trafficking report

(Washington, DC): Today the U.S. State Department gave the governments of both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan well-deserved downgrades to Tier 3, the lowest possible ranking, in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Both governments continue to coercively mobilize citizens to grow and harvest cotton each year in two of the world’s largest remaining systems of state-sponsored forced labor. The decisions were lauded in a letter sent today to Secretary of State John Kerry by the Cotton Campaign.

“The U.S. Government is to be commended for holding these government accountable for their pervasive abuses of human rights,” said Nadejda Ataeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “Today, the State Department sent a strong message that states that use violence and fear to coerce citizens into forced labor belong on the lowest tier of the report’s rankings.”

The 2015 Uzbek cotton harvest was marked by a dramatic rise in attacks against independent civil society monitors, as reported in the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights’ annual reporting on the cotton harvest. Elena Urlaeva endured multiple detentions with invasive body cavity searches, Uktam Pardaev was arrested and placed under a form of house arrest, and Dmitri Tihonov was forced to flee after his house was burned down and he was threatened with arrest. As these monitors documented, the Uzbek government’s forced labor system continued unchanged from previous years. Officials forced more than a million Uzbek citizens to grow and harvest cotton under threat of penalty including loss of work or social security benefits, expulsion from school, and fines. Teachers, medical professionals and other public servants are particularly impacted, and public services such as education and healthcare are severely limited during the cotton harvest.

Forced labor in cotton production in Turkmenistan is also state-orchestrated, systematic and widespread. According to reports from the Alternative Turkmenistan News, the Turkmen government forces farmers to deliver state-established annual cotton production quotas and thousands of workers to pick cotton under threats of loss of land, employment or wages. Forced-labor cotton production was noted as a reason for Tier 3 designations in the country reports for both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
“It is absolutely shocking these egregious worker rights abuses have persisted so long,” said Cathy Feingold, director of International Affairs for the AFL-CIO. “It is incumbent on governments and international institutions to firmly press the Uzbek and Turkmen governments to end forced-labor cotton production, and the United States took a positive step toward that goal today.”

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the world’s fifth- and seventh-highest exporters of cotton, respectively. The Uzbek and Turkmen governments both funnel hundreds of millions of dollars from annual cotton sales, by conservative estimates, into non-transparent, unaccountable funds only accessible to government elite. The cotton makes its way through opaque global supply chains and eventually winds up in the products of well-known global brands.

“With this year’s report, the US government sent the right message to the Uzbek and Turkmen governments,” said Pat Zerega, senior director of shareholder advocacy, Mercy Investment Services. “Progress towards fulfilling a state’s duty to protect its citizens’ right to freedom from forced labor must start with the state itself not using forced labor. We now urge the US government to use the report rankings to press the Uzbek and Turkmen governments to eliminate state-orchestrated forced labor in their cotton sectors.”

For more information and recommendations on how the U.S. Government can effectively advocate for an end to state-sponsored forced labor in cotton, please see the Cotton Campaign’s letter to Secretary of State Kerry.


The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of labour, human rights, investor and business organizations to end forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan.


Uzbekistan: Investigate alleged torture and death in custody!

Ilhom Ibodov (right), who died in custody on 13 September 2015, and his brother Rahim Ibodov (left), who was subjected to torture by officers of the Uzbekistani police and National Security Services and is currently serving an eight-year prison term.

Brothers Rahim and Ilhom Ibodov were businessmen running a car accessories business in Bukhara, central Uzbekistan. In recent years officials of the local National Security Services and others reportedly extorted bribes from the brothers in exchange for letting them run their business, an arrangement that is reportedly common in the business sector of Uzbekistan. When the brothers fell out with these officials over the financial arrangements and threatened to expose them, they were arrested on 16 August 2015 and accused of financial crimes. 

Rahim and Ilhom Ibodov were held in a temporary detention centre (IVS) at the Bukhara City Department of Internal Affairs for 25 days and were not allowed to speak to a lawyer for three weeks. During this time four fellow inmates beat the brothers every day and told them that they were acting on official orders in order to force them to provide false testimony. On 12 September, two days after being transferred to an SNB pre-trial investigation facility (SIZO), Rahim reportedly saw how his brother was beaten to death by three high-ranking SNB officers in the cell opposite. Ilhom’s body was returned to his family on 13 September for burial. They took photos and videos documenting injuries all over his body. On 11 November 2015 the family was given a death certificate stating that Ilhom had died of a heart attack. On 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Court sentenced Rahim to eight years‘ imprisonment based on evidence allegedly extracted under duress. The authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into the the circumstances of his death and allegations that the brothers were severely beaten. Ilhom and Rahim’s relatives have been repeatedly threatened with reprisals for speaking out about the case.

Support Ilhom and Rahim‘s family in their efforts to find out the truth and obtain justice by sending an email to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan at info@tiv.uz with the subject “Justice for Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov“ copying the following text:

Dear Minister,
There are allegations that Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov were severely beaten while in detention facilities under the Bukhara City Department of Internal Affairs and the Bukhara City National Security Services. On 12 September 2015 Ilhom was reportedly beaten so severely by three SNB officers that he later died from his injuries. Despite hearing allegations of torture on 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Court sentenced Rahim to eight years‘ imprisonment based on evidence allegedly extracted under duress.

We call on you to do all within your remit to ensure that a thorough, impartial and independent investigation is conducted into the circumstances of Ilhom Ibodov’s death and into the torture of Rahim Ibodov. In addition, Rahim Ibodov’s criminal case should be reviewed in a fair trial and all evidence obtained under duress should be excluded. We ask the Uzbekistani authorities to take all measures to ensure that the Rahim Ibodov and his family are protected from reprisals.
Yours sincerely,


On 16 August 2015 Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov were detained by security officials in Bukhara in relation to charges of violating trade laws and illegally trading foreign currency, of illegally travelling to Mecca on a pilgrimage and of forcing ten Russian citizens to work for them. Ilhom and Rahim were held in a detention facility of the Bukhara Department of Internal Affairs for 25 days and were told on the first day that if they signed a confession they would be released quickly. Both brothers reportedly signed confessions without reading them. However, they were reportedly subjected to further torture and ill-treatment including beatings by four “lokhmachi’” (detainees used by police and SNB officers to carry out torture in pre-trial detention) in order to force them to give further details to substantiate their false confessions.

An initial remand hearing took place on 26 August, and another on 12 September 2015 at Bukhara City Court. Ilhom and Rahim’s family were reportedly not informed about the first remand hearing but at the second they noticed that Ilhom could barely walk into the courtroom and had to be supported by two officials, his head lolling onto one of their shoulders. The judge did not allow the relatives into the courtroom. On 10 September Rahim and Ilhom were transferred to the Bukhara pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) under the National Security Service (SNB). In the cellar of the SIZO, Rahim, who was being held in a cell opposite his brother’s, reportedly saw three high-ranking SNB officers beat Ilhom as he lay on the floor. During the beating one of the officials reportedly held Ilhom while another put his foot on his chest and told him “If we kill you no one will ever ask us the reason why.” Then they began to beat him again. Ilhom had already lost consciousness. Rahim Ibodov asked the doctor of the SIZO who was present to provide Ilhom with medical assistance but she allegedly refused, telling him “I’ll help him once he’s dead”. Ilhom died on 13 September 2015.

On 13 September his body was given to his relatives who buried him on 14 September. Only on 11 November 2015 was Ilhom’s family given a death certificate stating that he had died from a heart attack. Photographic and video images of Ilhom Ibodov’s body taken by the family show bruising as well as bleeding on the nails of the hands and feet. 

Ilhom and Rahim’s mother, Khursand Radzhaba has lodged numerous complaints with the Uzbekistani authorities about the treatment of her sons but they have failed to launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the torture and death in custody and family members have been repeatedly threatened with reprisals for speaking out about the case.

On 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Criminal Court sentenced Rahim Ibodov to eight years in prison after finding him guilty of illegal purchase or sale of foreign currency (Article 177 part 3 items "a", "b" of the Uzbekistani Criminal Code), tax avoidance (Article 184 part 3), violating trade regulations (Article 189) and money laundering (Article 243). Rahim Ibodov partially admitted violating Article 189 for accounting discrepancies. 

Rahim Ibodov told the court that he had signed confessions without reading them and that he and his brother had been subjected to torture by SNB officers but the judge reportedly told Rahim that he should say nothing about the torture. Reportedly no proof of the brothers’ guilt was presented to the court and the prosecution case relied on testimony obtained under torture from the deceased Ilhom Ibodov and other prosecution witnesses who were not present in court.

In March 2016 Rahim Ibodov’s lawyer appealed the eight-year sentence on the grounds that the court of first instance had not taken into account the violations of the criminal procedural regulations and the allegations of torture. Nevertheless the appeal court left the first sentence in force. The court also failed to take into account the regular death threats received by Rahim Ibodov from SNB officers while he was in detention.

Rahim Ibodov is currently serving his sentence in prison colony UA 64/3 in the village of Tavaksai in the Bostanliq district of Tashkent region.