20.5.16

Kazakhstan: Free activists and allow peaceful protests to take place

At the protest rally against "sale of land" 
in Atyrau, 24 August 2016. 
Photo by azattyq.org/
 
Authorities in Kazakhstan must immediately release all peaceful activists arrested ahead of planned protests on May 21, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Adil Soz, International Legal Initiative and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said in a statement today.

This week Kazakhstani authorities have arrested several leading activists ahead of planned country-wide protests against a new land reform, the groups said. Activists and social media users have been arrested in Astana, Almaty, Atyray, Shymkent, Uralsk and Semey. Authorities have pressed criminal charges against at least two activists, whereas numerous others have been sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention.

“Arresting activists and social media users for expressing their intention to participate in peaceful protests is a clear violation of Kazakhstan’s international obligations. The authorities must immediately release all arrested activists and ensure every citizen the right to freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly,” said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Public demonstrations initially started in western Kazakhstan, in the city of Atyrau on April 24 as a protest against amendments to the land law. The new legislation would allow foreigners to lease farm land for up to 25 years, which protesters fear will effectuate that Kazakhstani land will permanently befall foreigners. From Atyrau the protests quickly spread to other cities in western Kazakhstan, such as Aktobe, Aktau and Uralsk. Within a short time similar rallies were manifested in numerous cities across Kazakhstan including Astana, Almaty, Zhanaosen, Kizilorda and Semey. The demonstrations have so far drawn a considerable number of protesters, which is highly uncommon in Kazakhstan where broad public participation in public protests is a rare occurrence.

“The wave of arrests shows the Kazakhstani authorities’ disregard for freedom of assembly. We call on the authorities to allow the planned peaceful protests to take place in line with international human rights standards,” said Aina Shormanbaeva, President of the International Legal Initiative.

President Nazarbaev responded to the protests on May 5 by announcing a moratorium on the new legislation. Dissatisfied with the moratorium activists in several cities applied to local authorities seeking permission to hold protest rallies on May 21. Following the subsequent denial from the authorities to hold protest, numerous activists and social media users across Kazakhstan nonetheless expressed their intention to participate in protest rallies across Kazakhstan on May 21.

In response to the calls for public protests on May 21 the authorities launched a wave of arrests on May 17 that still continued when this statement was published. Activists and outspoken social media users were arrested in several cities, including Astana, Almaty, Semey and Uralsk. At least 24 people have been arrested or detained after expressing their intention to take part in the planned May 21 protests, or after applying to local authorities for permission to hold protests.

“The authorities are using administrative detention as a tool to silence activists and outspoken voices”, said Tamara Kaleva, President of the Adil Soz foundation. “This sends a chilling message to every citizen of Kazakhstan – that openly expressing your views in social media can land you behind bars. Kazakhstan must stop the current crackdown on freedom of expression”, she added.

Whereas most of the arrested activists are held in administrative detention, several activists face criminal charges as well. In Uralsk, local activist and musician Zhanat Esentaev is currently under arrest on suspicions of “incitement of social, national, clan, race, class or religious discord”. Esentaev had prior to his arrest applied to local authorities for permission to hold protests in the public square of Uralsk on May 21. In connection with Esentaev’s case, other local activists have the status as witnesses, but may potentially risk criminal charges themselves. In Astana authorities have raised criminal charges against activist Makhsat Ilyashev, although the details of the charges remain unknown, according to Radio Azzatyk. Furthermore, authorities have interrogated several other activists on charges of organizing mass-disorder.

Although the Constitution of Kazakhstan guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, the legal framework regulating such activities poses numerous obstacles to public protest. According to Kazakhstani law, would-be protesters must apply for a permit from local authorities no less than ten days in advance of the planned protests. Furthermore, the application can only be submitted by registered groups, not individuals, and the organizer carries responsibility for security during the event. The law also restricts where a meeting may be held: Public protests are not permitted where it may disturb transport, pedestrians or general infrastructure. Furthermore, it is forbidden to hold meetings outside the offices of public services, such as those providing water, gas or electricity, or outside offices of health or educational administrations, and close to buildings important to state defense or security. Also, meetings may not take place near railroads, ports or airports. Naturally, any spot in any city center will be in proximity of at least one of the above mentioned.

Internationally, Kazakhstan has received criticism for its restrictive approach to freedom of assembly and association. After a visit to Kazakhstan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, last year expressed criticism of Kazakhstan’s practice and legal framework related to public protests. In his statement Kiai said that “in Kazakhstan today the freedom of assembly is treated as a privilege, or a favor, rather than a right”. Furthermore, the United Nations Human Rights Committee also ruled last year that Kazakhstan must review its legislation “in particular the Law on the Order of Organization and Conduct of Peaceful Assemblies, Meetings, Processions, Pickets and Demonstrations”.

“The arrests of civil society activists as well as the total control over anyone expressing their intention to participate in the planned peaceful protests, is a manifestation of political repression”, said Nadejda Atayeva, President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “We call on the Kazakhstani authorities to end its undue interference in fundamental freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution of Kazakhstan, and to amend the legal framework  as ruled by the United Nations Human Rights Committee last year”, she added.




13.5.16

Uzbekistan: Continuing repression in the wake of Andijan


ART AND HUMAN RIGHTS — AHRCA
On the 11th anniversary of the tragic events in Andijan, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Reporters without Borders (RSF), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Uzbek-German Forum for human rights (UGF), and Cotton Campaign at International Labor Rights Forum commemorate the victims of the bloodiest repression of demonstrators in the last 25 years in Uzbekistan and express concern that the Uzbekistani authorities continue repressions against those who speak out about the tragic events in Andijan of 13 May 2005.

On 13 May, a growing number of people gathered in the central Babur Square in Andijan to voice grievances about repressive government policies and economic hardships. Their number grew to several thousands. Uzbek law enforcement and security forces encircled the crowd and repeatedly fired indiscriminately on the protesters, the vast majority of whom were unarmed. They did not give any warning or attempt to use other crowd control measures, such as water cannons or tear gas, and ignored cries from protesters to stop shooting. As a result of the shootings, hundreds of people died and many more were injured. Among the victims were many women, children and elderly. According to official figures, 187 people were killed, but unofficial estimates put the number between 500 and 1500.

In the months after the events of 13 May, hundreds of people were charged with crimes related to the violence and tried in closed and secret hearings, where they were given lengthy prison sentences. Many others were forced to flee Uzbekistan. None of the officials who were involved in the shootings have been brought to justice and held accountable.

The government of Uzbekistan refers to "the Andijan issue" as an internal matter and has dismissed international calls for carrying out an effective, independent and impartial investigation into the May 2005 events, in violation of its international human rights obligations.

"Today, eleven years have passed since the massacre in Andijan, and still, no one has been held responsible for the extra-judicial killings and executions that shook the international community. Uzbekistan must allow an impartial, international investigation into the gruesome events that left hundreds dead", said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

"In Uzbekistan, the practice of imprisoning people on the basis of confessions obtained through torture is pervasive"  said Julia Bourbon head of the Central Asia and Asia desk of ACAT,  "Prisoners’ sentences are frequently extended. Thousands of political prisoners have spent years in prison in conditions amounting to torture and ill-treatment."

Although eleven years have passed since the Andijan tragedy, many of the circumstances remain unclear. It remains necessary to establish the number of dead, wounded and missing and to cease harassing those witnesses and civil society activists who demand an investigation into the tragedy.

Those who fled Uzbekistan and settled in Russia and throughout the CIS face continued repression and harassment. The relatives of Andijan refugees living in Uzbekistan face constant pressure from state bodies. The Uzbekistani authorities misuse international mechanisms such as Interpol to pursue civil society activists who have fled abroad.

"Corruption is widespread in all echelons of power in Uzbekistan and this destroys the rule of law and undermines the principles of the Constitution," said Nadejda Atayeva, AHRCA president.  "The lack of freedom of speech and of judicial independence only serves to fuel practices of torture and contemporary forms of slavery. We must remember the Andijan tragedy and speak out about the situation in Uzbekistan."

"The climate of fear continues to enable the Uzbek government's use of forced labor, and officials increased the frequency and severity of attacks against citizens documenting the cotton harvest this past year," said Matthew Fischer-Daly, Cotton Campaign coordinator at the International Labor Rights Forum. "It is incumbent on the international community to press the Uzbekistani government to ensure citizens can raise labor and human rights concerns without fear of reprisals."

"We won't forget the tragic events of Andijan; despite the authorities’ attempts to silence those who strived to report on the tragedy of 13 May 2005. Journalists have a crucial role to play to remind the world about the repression imposed by the Uzbekistani authorities on the people — from cotton workers to media workers. Our thoughts go to the Uzbekistani journalists who continue to endure violence, prison, torture or exile in retribution for exercising their right to freedom of information", said, Johann Bihr, head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

The international community must not forget about the tragic events in Andijan, and must pay close attention to the ongoing human rights violations occurring in Uzbekistan. External pressure is imperative to achieve accountability for the Andijan events and progress on the respect of fundamental human rights and the development of civil society in Uzbekistan.

"Allowing the Andijan massacre to be forgotten means the Uzbekistani authorities will avoid assuming responsibility for the most serious of crimes,"  Rachel Bugler, IPHR consultant — "the international community must continue to demand accountability for this tragedy and the UN Human Rights Council should establish a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan."






29.4.16

Uzbekistan: Defend human rights activist Uktam Pardaev

As an essential strategy to sustain its massive use of forced labour, the government of Uzbekistan harasses, arrests, detains, and in some cases tortures citizens who attempt to document it. Uktam Pardaev, a human rights activist from
Uktam Pardaev
Jizzakh and member of an independent cotton harvest monitoring group, was arrested on 16 November 2015 on trumped up charges of fraud, taking a bribe, and insult. Pardaev was held for eight weeks in pre-trial detention. In detention officials kept him in a damp, cold cell with only a dirty mat to sleep on little food. Pardaev witnessed officials torturing and mistreating detainees to coerce confessions. Pardaev was pressured to confess and beaten severely on one occasion. 

Human rights organizations worldwide, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, demanded the immediate release of Uktam Pardaev. On 11 January 2016, he was sentenced to three years’ probation, under which he lives at his home under constant surveillance by security services, which also heavily restrict his movements and activities. Officials also continue to harass Uktam Pardaev’s relatives and friends, who have been watched, questioned and threatened.



Act NOW! Click here to support the campaign to end this harassment by the Uzbek government.


25.4.16

Torture concerns for prisoner in Uzbekistan


Davron Komoliddinov
Twenty-four year-old Davron Komoliddinov is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Prison Colony 64/61 in the city of Karshi in southern Uzbekistan after being found guilty of crimes against the constitutional order in a trial that breeched international standards of fairness. There are serious concerns that Davron Komoliddinov has been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in order to force him to confess to crimes he alleges he did not commit and that he remains at risk of such treatment. 

Uzbekistani citizen Davron Komoliddinov was detained on 4 March 2015 by Russian law enforcement officials in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, after an extradition request was received from Uzbekistan.  He was last seen by his family members in Russia in court on 27 March 2015. On 2 August, Davron Komoliddinov telephoned his relatives to inform them that he was being sent back to Uzbekistan but his exact whereabouts remained unknown until 18 September 2015 when his relatives were informed that he was being held in the basement of the Ferghana branch of the National Security Services (NSS) building in eastern Uzbekistan. Davron Komoliddinov’s relatives learnt later that from 2 August to 10 September 2015 he had been held in Tashtyurma, the notorious detention facility in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. 

Davron Komoliddinov was charged with incitement to ethnic, racial or religious hatred (Article 156); attempt on the constitutional order of Uzbekistan (Article 159) and establishment or participation in a religious extremist or banned organization (Article 244-2). The charges were based on testimony from two Uzbekistani citizens who had been arrested in Uzbekistan in October 2012. Davron Komoliddinov had been in contact with the two men in Russia three years earlier.

On 24 February 2016, Davron Komoliddinov’s brother visited him in Prison Colony 64/61 in Karshi and saw that Davron’s body was covered with sores and bruises and there are grounds to believe that Davron Komoliddinov was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment during his interrogation in order to force him to confess.  Davron Komoliddinov told his brother that during interrogation, he had asked the NSS officials to explain how and where he was supposed to have committed the crimes of which he was accused. In response, the NSS officials told him to sign the interrogation documents partially confessing his guilt and told him that matters would be examined in detail during the court hearing.

Davron Komoliddinov also told his brother that whilst in Russia he had accessed online sermons and teachings of religious leaders and performed namaz (Islamic prayers). In 2012, he had accessed information by independent Uzbekistani imams on YouTube and copied their photographs on to his social media page (Odnoklassniki – Classmates). These materials and sermons were not banned in Russia and when Davron Komoliddinov was arrested, Russian security officials confiscated his computer but found no banned or illegal materials.

During the investigation and trial, Davron Komoliddinov was represented by a state-appointed lawyer. On 10 November 2015, Fergana Regional Court found Davron Komoliddinov guilty on all three charges and sentenced him to seven years in prison. The court of appeal upheld the sentence on 19 January 2016. Neither Davron Komoliddinov nor his lawyers have been given a copy of the court verdict. NSS officials threatened Davron Komoliddinov’s relatives when they appealed to the Prosecutor’s office and the court to review the sentence, saying they would meet a similar fate to that of Davron if they did not cease their appeals

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) are concerned that Davron Komoliddinov was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in order to force him to confess to crimes he did not commit.  Davron Komoliddinov’s right to a fair trial has been violated and he was not provided with effective and independent legal defence. A pattern of repression and reprisals against defence lawyers who act for people suspected of criminal offences related to national security in Uzbekistan has been well documented. There are credible reports of torture and ill-treatment being used in Uzbekistan against those suspected of crimes against national security, particularly in pre-trial detention but also in prison.

Background

Davron Komoliddinov’s case reflects a pattern of persecution by the Uzbekistani law-enforcement authorities of Uzbekistani citizens who travel to work in other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Often, upon arrival in Russia, in order to reduce living costs migrants share housing and places of work. AHRCA has observed that Uzbekistani law enforcement officials frequently use the fact of communal living arrangements to accuse labour migrants of establishing a criminal group and of distributing banned literature. The law enforcement officials pressure one or two members of the group of migrants to testify against their co-workers, who are then included on the Interpol International wanted lists, and in many cases are then arrested, extradited to Uzbekistan and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. This is what happened in Davron Komoliddinov’s case. Usually, those migrants targeted have lived in Russia legally for at least three months. When they hear from relatives in Uzbekistan that the security services have asked questions about them, they go into hiding in Russia and therefore do not continue to complete formalities to prolong their legal stay In processing extradition requests in cases of forcible returns, Russia continues to prioritize regional cooperation agreements such as the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement and the Minsk Convention on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family and Criminal Matters, over their international obligations to prevent return of anyone to a country where they are at real risk of torture, leading to an increase in such cases.

Recommendations

AHRCA and IPHR call on the Uzbekistani authorities to:


— fully and impartially investigate the allegations of torture and ill-treatment against Davron Komoliddinov and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice in a fair trial, as per recommendation 14a of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) of 17 August 2015;

— review Davron Komoliddinov’s case in a fair trial which takes account of the fact that he was allegedly forced to confess under duress to crimes he maintains he did not commit and provide him with effective remedy if it is found that he was wrongly convicted, as per HRC recommendation 14d;

— ensure that no acts of reprisals or harassment are taken against Davron Komoliddinov or his relatives;

— ensure that all trials correspond with international standards for a fair, independent and impartial trial, including those that involve persons accused of crimes of religious extremism or crimes against the state;

— ensure that any statement or confession elicited as a result of torture or ill-treatment is not used as evidence in any proceedings except those brought against the alleged perpetrators, as per HRC recommendation 14c.





 

25.3.16

Russian citizen at risk of torture in Uzbekistan

Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev
Thirty-four-year-old Bakhtiyor Takhirzhanovich Khudayberdiev has been held in detention in the basement of the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB) building in Tashkent on charges of “extremism” since January 2016. Given the pattern of use of torture and other ill-treatment against those accused of “extremist” crimes in Uzbekistan, the Association Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) fear that Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev is at imminent risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev is an ethnic Uzbek who was born in the city of Osh in Southern Kyrgyzstan. He obtained Russian citizenship and simultaneously gave up his Kyrgyz one in 2009 after moving to Russia from Kyrgyzstan for work. On 8 January 2016, Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev left Seoul in South Korea, where he had been temporarily staying when seeking work, to travel to Osh to see his mother. On 9 January, he arrived at Tashkent airport in Uzbekistan intending to take a taxi from there to Osh. Bakhtiyor was detained for production and distribution of extremist materials after security officials at the airport allegedly found recordings of prayers and verses from the Koran on his mobile phone as well as news items about the 2010 ethnic unrest in Osh downloaded from the internet. He was subsequentlycharged under Article 244-2 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan (Production and distribution of materials containing threat to public security and public order) and currently he remains in detention on these charges. Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev and his parents deny the charges and maintain that he has only exercised his faith in a peaceful way.  

For over three weeks, Bakhtiyor’s relatives were not informed of his detention or his whereabouts. Finally, on 1 February 2016, Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev’s mother was able to locate him in the National Security Services’ (SNB) Yunusabad temporary detention facility in Tashkent. Only then did she learn about the charges against him, as well as the fact that he had been provided with a state-appointed lawyer. Bakhtiyor’s mother told AHRCA that her son looked frightened, emaciated and exhausted during their meeting, at which an SNB investigator was present. While Bakhtiyor did not complain to his mother of ill-treatment, there are serious reasons to fear for his safety and well-being in view of the initial incommunicado nature of his detention, as well as the widespread pattern of torture and ill-treatment against detainees in Uzbekistan, in particular those accused of “extremist” crimes.

A widespread campaign against religious “extremists” continues in Uzbekistan, with broad extremist charges often used to crack down on legitimate and peaceful religious expression. In recent years, the Uzbekistani authorities have increased searches of mobile phones and computer equipment at border checkpoints for religious materials banned in Uzbekistan. This practice has led to increasing numbers of people being detained for possessing allegedly “extremist” materials. There is a well-documented pattern of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held incommunicado for initial interrogations, and in particular of those detained in closed detention facilities run by the National Security Services. Law enforcement officials routinely carry out torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions and incriminating information. Those at particular risk include individuals accused of offenses threatening national security and religious extremism, as in the case of Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev. 

On 17 March 2016, Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev’s father was visited at his home in Vladivostok, Russia by a representative of the Interpol bureau in Russia, who was accompanied by another man who introduced himself as a representative of the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Russia. They informed Bakhtiyor’s father that an Interpol warrant allegedly had been issued against his son at the request of Uzbekistan and asked questions about him. Bakhtiyor’s father tried to find out the details about the grounds on which his son was wanted and had been detained in Uzbekistan, a country that he was just passing through on his way to Kyrgyzstan and to which he has no other connections. However, he was not given any clear answers. Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev is not known to have been wanted for any crimes by any country prior to his arrest and he has no criminal record. 


AHRCA and IPHR urge the Uzbekistani authorities to ensure that Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev is granted unhindered access to a lawyer of his choice, as well as his relatives; that he is not subjected to torture or ill-treatment while in detention; and that a medical examination is immediately carried out to determine the state of his health. If he is brought to court, he should be granted a fair trial in full accordance with international standards. The two organizations are also concerned that Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev’s name appears to have been included on the Interpol wanted list only after he was arrested in Uzbekistan. 

AHRCA and IPHR have passed information about the case of Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

24.3.16

URGENT

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I implore for an urgent help of anyone who knows about the protection against cyber bullying, provocations and slander against a human rights activist.

Unfortunately, this problem has become critical and extremely dangrous. I hope very much that I will be heard.

The search for a lawyer and organisations who are specialised in this special kind of protection have not yielded a desired result so far. And I now have to publicly ask for an urgent help.

I do not want to comment on my situation yet, I am just looking for professional specialists.

Please write to me. I will be very grateful for your help.

With respect,
Nadejda Atayeva











26.2.16

Shabnam Khudoydodova is free!

Shabnam Khayrulloevna KHUDOYDODOVA
was born on 20 December 1986
in the city of Kulyab of the Tajikistan SSR.
She is the mother of a daughter.
22 February 2016: a citizen of Tajikistan Shabnam Khudoydodova is release form custody in Belorussia.

We welcome the decision of the Republic of Belarus and thank the lawyers and the UNHCR mission for creating the conditions and their participation in her case. Diplomatic mission of the OSCE, the democratic community of countries and especially the United States Embassy deserve much gratitude. The US diplomats followed the fate of Shabnam Hudodoydovoy all the time and actively protected her from forcible return to Tajikistan.

On 13 June 2015, Shabnam Khudoydodova was arrested in the city of Brest of the Republic of Belarus, and spent 3 days in the Detention Centre of the Brest City Police Department of the Leninski District. The Detention Centre is located in the northern town of the city of Brest, in the basement of the Leninsky District Police Department. On 16 June 2015, Shabnam was transferred to the Detention Centre №7 (institution UZH-15/IZ-7) in Brest. On 22 February 2016, Shabnam was released from the Detention Centre №7. Currently, Shabnam Khudoydodovoya is in conditions guaranteeing her safety.

Shabnam Khudoydodova was detained for seven months at the request of Tajikistan for her extradition. Tajik authorities are persecuting her for her criticism published in social networks. She declared her support for the leaders of the political opposition in Tajikistan, who have been calling on President Rahmon for democratic reforms. Soon after that Khudoydodova was included in the wanted list of Interpol. She is forced to live abroad, because there is no work at home, and suffers because of the separation from her daughter.

In January 2015, Khudoydodova’s house was searched, her mother and all those with whom she maintained a relationship in Tajikistan were interrogated. In recent years, Shabnam Khudoydodova lived in Russia. Having learned that her abduction was being prepared in the Russian Federation, she left Russia. Around the same time, in early 2015, Shabnam Khudoydodova was included in the wanted list in Tajikistan.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia expresses its gratitude to all partners who participated in defending Shabnam Khudodoydova, namely Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee - NHC, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and many others.