24.6.16

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.

TAKE ACTION
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,


BACKGROUND:

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.






Supporting victims of torture in Central Asia on International Anti-Torture Day

Sergey Ignatyev

Continuing reports of torture indicate that the authorities of the five Central Asian states need to do much more to end torture and impunity, although victims of torture and local and international human rights defenders have reached important milestones in their joint struggle for justice in some of these countries in recent years. Please help us mark this year’s United Nations (UN) International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June) by joining our online action for torture victims in Central Asia (here).


In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in the framework of the countries’ national preventive mechanisms (NPMs), human rights defenders have access to detention and prison facilities. Since early 2015 the NGO Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have recorded 241 and 132 new cases, respectively, of people with credible reports that they were subjected to torture or ill-treatment. The Tajikistani authorities allow human rights activists only limited access to detainees and prisoners in the framework of the Monitoring Group under the Ombudsman’s Office and in many cases this country’s NGO Coalition is approached by the victims’ relatives. Since January 2015 it has registered 82 new cases.

“These figures reflect the tip of the iceberg. Many victims and their relatives prefer to keep silent about the abuse for fear of reprisals by law enforcement officers,“ said Roza Akylbekova, head of the Coalition against Torture in Kazakhstan, on behalf of the groups jointly issuing this statement.

In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan the repressive nature of the regimes means that independent human rights groups are unable to operate and it is therefore impossible to comprehensively study the situations of torture. Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian country that has never invited the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and Uzbekistan has allowed no visit since 2003. However, the NGOs-in-exile Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights receive regular and credible reports indicating that torture is pervasive and has become an integral part of the criminal justice systems. From January 2011 to date AHRCA received over 58 letters from prisoners and their relatives and 171 other reports alleging abuse during investigation and detention.

In recent years members of the Coalitions in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have assisted numerous victims in filing complaints and persistently pursuing their cases through the countries’ legal systems. Several perpetrators have been brought to justice and convicted to prison terms as a result. NGOs have also assisted victims of torture from all five Central Asian states to apply to UN treaty bodies, which have issued decisions on dozens of cases urging the relevant authorities to conduct effective investigations into the allegations, bring the perpetrators to justice and adequately compensate the victims.

“In Central Asia, most perpetrators of torture continue to walk free, but thanks to the courage and persistence of survivors and their families and the professionalism of NGOs and lawyers, several perpetrators are currently serving prison terms. We will build on these successes and push for justice in further cases“, said Nigina Bakhrieva, head of the anti-torture Coalition in Tajikistan, on behalf of the NGOs issuing this statement.

In recent years members of the Coalitions against Torture in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have successfully supported five and six victims of torture respectively, in attempts to obtain compensation for moral harm. Although the compensation payments have not been adequate, these are important precedents. Member groups of the Coalitions have also provided hundreds of victims with rehabilitation services, such as medical and psychological support to heal injuries and trauma.

In recent years some Central Asian states significantly improved their legislation following recommendations by UN human rights bodies and local and international NGOs. For example, Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code that came into force in 2015 excluded those charged or convicted of “torture“ from prisoners amnesties and abolished the statute of limitations applicable to this crime. Legal safeguards protecting detainees from torture in detention were significantly strengthened in the new Criminal Procedure Code, although, in practice, detainees are often not given access to them. Tajikistan adopted legal amendments in May 2016 strengthening safeguards against torture in detention. In 2014 the Ministries of Health in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan obliged medical personnel – when conducting examinations of detainees – to document their findings based on standards of the UN Istanbul Protocol.

A major obstacle to achieving justice for all torture survivors in Central Asia is the lack of independent and transparent investigation mechanisms. Victims in Turkmenistan are in a particularly dire situation as the authorities blatantly deny that torture exists; no one is known to have been charged with “torture“ since this crime was added to the Criminal Code in 2012. In Uzbekistan the lack of independent judges and independent complaints mechanisms results in impunity for many state actors guilty of torture. In the other countries investigations are often not instigated either and when they are opened they are frequently not conducted promptly, thoroughly and impartially; in many cases the investigators are officials of the same Ministry whose employees reportedly perpetrated the abuse.





7.6.16

Tajikistan: Verdicts of Opposition Activists Travesty of Justice


US, EU Should Protest Deepening Crackdown

(Washington) – Tajikistan’s Supreme Court sentenced leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on June 2, 2016 to lengthy prison terms on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said today. The sentences, including two life terms, followed an unfair trial initiated in retaliation for their peaceful political opposition and reflect the government’s pervasive manipulation of the justice system and egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression.

The US, EU member states, and Tajikistan’s other international partners should respond to the sentences with targeted punitive measures against Tajik officials unless concrete human rights improvements are made, including setting aside the opposition leaders’ convictions.

“If allowed to stand, these draconian sentences will not only strike a blow to Tajikistan’s peaceful opposition but to every Tajik citizen,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These sentences show that anyone in Tajikistan any time can be labeled a criminal and punished simply for disagreeing with the government.”

Following a politically motivated trial, the Supreme Court sentenced the IRPT’s first deputy and deputy chairmen, Saidumar Husaini and Mahmadali Hayit, to life in prison.  Rahmatulloi Rajab, Sattor Karimov, Kiyomiddini Azav, and Abdukahhori Davlat, other party leaders, all were sentenced to 28 years in prison. The senior IRPT legal adviser, Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to two years.

Other sentences were: Zubaidullohi Rozik 25 years; Muhammadalii Fayzmyhammad, 23 years; while Vokhidhoni Kosiddin and Sadiddini Rustam, 20 years; Hikmatulloh Sayfullozoda, editor of the now banned IRPT newspaper “Najot,” 16-years; Muhammadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Gayratov, 14 years.

Several of the defendants, including Hayit and Rahmoni, are well-known in Tajikistan and internationally for their many years of peaceful advocacy on human rights, freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion.

While the Social Democratic party is also part of the opposition, IRPT was by far the largest and most viable opposition party in Tajikistan. Group 24, a peaceful opposition movement made of activists mainly outside the country, has also been persecuted and declared a terrorist organization by the government.

The trial, which began on February 24, was closed to observers and marked by serious violations of due process. Sources close to several of the defendants told Human Rights Watch that several defendants were subjected to torture or ill-treatment in pre-trial detention. Several lawyers who attempted to represent the IRPT leaders on trial, such as Buzurgmehr Yorov, were detained on trumped up charges. A lawyer who represented one of the defendants and was present in court throughout the trial told the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) that the government presented no evidence of the defendants’ guilt, citing the allegations made in the indictments as established facts.

“The only purpose of this trial was to dress up political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The defendants’ crimes appear to be fabricated, yet their fate was pre-determined. This is a travesty of justice.”

On June 2, the day the verdict was handed down, the wives of several defendants announced they would hold a peaceful protest and walk to the local United Nations office to seek a consultation on the sentences. As the women proceeded toward the UN building, police detained them. They were fined for an administrative violation of “failure to obey police.”

Authorities began to arrest IRPT leaders and party members on September 16, 2015, accusing them of involvement in an alleged attempted coup earlier that month, purportedly by deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Party officials, including IRPT’s chairman, Muhiddin Kabiri, and Hayit, the deputy chairman, repeatedly rejected accusations that the party was involved with or supported the alleged mutiny by Nazarzoda.

Days before the arrests, Tajik authorities formally banned the party, forcing its closure and later declared it a terrorist organization amid a long-running campaign to stamp out opposition political activity in the country and among activists abroad.

Tajikistan is in the midst of the worst political and religious crackdown since the end of the country’s 1992-1997 civil war. Over the past two years, authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and tortured members of the country’s peaceful political opposition. They have also targeted perceived critics abroad, seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan, and have forcibly disappeared critics abroad only to have them reappear in Tajik custody.

Authorities have also targeted lawyers, journalists, and ordinary citizens who have posted statements critical of the government of President Emomali Rahmon on social media. Hundreds of perceived critics and their family members have fled the country, according to observers’ estimates. Constitutional changes accepted in a May 21 referendum tightened President Rahmon’s grip on power, effectively giving him unlimited presidential terms and extending a ban on the IRPT.

The United States, the European Union, and other key international actors should make unequivocal calls for the defendants’ release, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said. The international actors should press the Tajik government to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion and impose targeted punitive measures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik government officials responsible for imprisoning peaceful activists, torture, and other grave human rights violations.

On April 15, the State Department designated Tajikistan a “country of particular concern” with respect to religious freedom, allowing the US government to sanction the country, and although the administration declined to do so, it can alter its decision and impose sanctions now, and press allies to do the same.

“Tajikistan’s international partners should publicly and unanimously condemn this mockery of justice,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajikistan’s human rights situation has been spiraling downward at a rapid pace and the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”



3.6.16

Turkmenistan: Open letter on attack on justice-seeking mother

Umida Jumabaeva

Nine human rights organizations have sent a joint open letter to Turkmenistan’s Prosecutor General regarding an appalling attack on Umida Jumabaeva, a justice-seeking mother. She was physically assaulted and had acid thrown at her by unknown perpetrators on 22 May 2016, leaving her with severe burns to her face and body. The context of the attack suggests that she may have been targeted in retribution for petitions she filed regarding her son, a military conscript. The signatories call for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the attack, with due attention being given to this possible motive for the attack.

The letter has been signed by:  Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, International Partnership for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Nota Bene and Voice of Freedom.

Read the letter below or download it here.

To: Prosecutor General Аmanmyrat Khallyev

Cc: 
Minister of Defence Yaylym Berdiyev, 
Minister of Internal Affairs Isgender Mulikov, 
Minister of Justice Bekmyrat Mukhammedov, 
Minister of National Security Dovrangeldy Bayramov, 
Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, 
Head of the Presidential Administration Shamukhammet Durdylyev


Dear Prosecutor General,

We are writing to you regarding the case of Umida Jumabaeva, a teacher, mother of four and resident of the village of Gurbansoltan-Edje who was physically assaulted and had acid thrown at her by unknown perpetrators on 22 May 2016. We urge you to ensure that this appalling attack is promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated and that those responsible, including those who may have ordered the attack are brought to justice and given punishments commensurate to the crime. The investigation should give due attention to allegations that the attack was motivated by Umida Jumabaeva’s struggle for justice for her son.

According to information obtained by Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), two, unidentified men approached and attacked 44-year old Umida Jumabaeva near the house of one of her friends in Gurbansoltan-Edje at around 8 pm on 22 May 2016. The two men pushed her to the ground, repeatedly kicked her and threw acid at her before running off. As a result of the attack, Umida Jumabaeva sustained a concussion, severe burns to her face and body, and multiple bruises. She was hospitalized for one week to treat her injuries and continues to undergo treatment at home.

Local police have launched an investigation into the attack. It is our understanding that the investigation is focusing on the attack as a common crime. However, the context of the attack suggests that Umida Jumabaeva may have been targeted in retribution for petitions she filed on behalf of her son. It is imperative that the investigation carefully consider this theory of the case and that the investigation is carried out in full accordance with relevant national and international standards.

According to TIHR’s information, Umida Jumabaeva has repeatedly appealed to authorities regarding her son, Rakhim Babaev, who was drafted into the army in spring 2015. Although Rakhim Babaev is an athlete and candidate for the national track and field team for the 2017 Asian Games due to be held in Turkmenistan and other international competitions, he was not admitted for service into the Turkmen army’s specialized sports unit. His parents were reportedly requested to pay a bribe of $2000 by Ministry of Defence officials in order to secure Rakhim’s admission for service in this unit. However, his parents did not agree to pay such an amount and their son ended up in the motor-rifle unit in Kerki. His parents’ refusal to pay the bribe gives rise to concerns that Rakhim was subjected to discriminatory treatment. While serving in the army unit in Kerki, Rakhim has allegedly been subjected to ill-treatment.

Umida Jumabaeva sent a series of letters to Turkmenistan’s armed forces, defence minister, the government Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and other authorities concerning her son’s case, calling for action to ensure justice and fair treatment of Rakhim and for holding responsible officials accountable. She has only received non-committal replies and her allegations of discriminatory and unlawful treatment of her son, including ill-treatment of him at his current army unit have not been adequately addressed. Given this, she has continued her struggle for justice.

Another basis for concern that the attack on Umida Jumabaeva was related to her son’s case are the facts that her neighbours noticed that she was subjected to surveillance a few days prior to the attack and that the perpetrators did not take any of her belongings. TIHR has also repeatedly received information about other individuals who have been subjected to pressure after filing complaints about the actions of officials of armed and security forces.

We thank you for your attention to this letter and trust that you will ensure that the rights of Umida Jumabaeva and her son Rakhim Babaev are safeguarded, in accordance with the guarantees set out by national law and international human rights law, as well as the commitments undertaken by Turkmenistan in its National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020.[i]

Sincerely,

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights
International Partnership for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
Public Foundation “Nota Bene”
Public Foundation “Golos Svobody” (“Voice of Freedom”)

[i] In particular points 11 and 17 of part two of the Human Rights Action Plan, which promise concrete measures to ensure access to justice and adequate responses to petitions and appeals to authorities.




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.