23.5.18

Open letter of civil society organizations to the Swiss government


The Swiss government should not return assets stolen from the people of Uzbekistan to its government until the Swiss government reviews its return policies in light of reported irregularities in the use of assets Switzerland previously returned to the Kazakh government
We, the undersigned representatives of civil society organizations advocating for transparent and responsible repatriation of assets stolen from the Uzbek people, are urgently calling upon the Swiss government to ensure that any decision regarding the ill-gotten assets of Gulnara Karimova, currently the subject of litigation in several countries, be made with due consideration to the rights and development prospects of the Uzbek people.

We urge the Swiss government not to act hastily and to consider that the promise of reform by the Mirziyoev regime have not yet materialized in practice. Based on all available information we strongly believe that return of these assets without sound conditionalities developed in consultation with major stakeholders, including civil society - which has been in a stranglehold in Uzbekistan for more than two decades - would only further perpetuate corrupt practices in Uzbekistan, leaving the systemic causes of the original criminal conduct untouched. The Swiss government can and should use these assets as an incentive to promote and support the course of reforms in Uzbekistan in the long-term interests of the Uzbek people.

The government of Uzbekistan’s claim over these assets is based on a decision of Tashkent Regional Criminal Court. As far as we know, Swiss law bars the recognition of a foreign court judgment if the procedural principles set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms were not observed. Given the absence of anything approaching a due process in Uzbek courts, as numerous reports by human rights organizations, international bodies, and other governments have documented, we question how the Swiss government could consider returning assets in reliance on this basis. The only way we see it could comply with its legal obligations would through a return with sound conditionalities.

Hastily returning the assets also raises the risk of repeating the irregularities observed around the Swiss government’s recent, essentially unconditional return of $48 million in money laundering proceeds to the Kazakh government. The assets were returned through funding two projects administered by the World Bank Trust Fund. We have reports that that those projects are affected by conflict of interests and opaque disposal of funds to organizations controlled by top officials, including Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The controversial restitution of $48M to Kazakhstan and the looming return of Gulnara Karimova’s ill-gotten assets directly to the Uzbek government contravenes the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ (SFDFA) commitments to pursue transparent and accountable repatriation of the proceeds of corruption, stolen assets frozen and confiscated on Swiss territory.

In our view, asset return should be considered as an integral part of the global fight against corruption. The repatriation policy that appears to have been functionally adopted by the Swiss government is contradictory to this view. Violation of commitments against corruption and regarding responsible asset return may undermine Switzerland’s reputation as a leading state in asset return.

Not just the Kazakh case, but also earlier lessons learned by the Swiss government in the Montesinos case, the Abacha case and the Angola case - where setbacks occurred as well - underline the importance of responsible repatriation and the responsibilities of the requested state in this process. As the Swiss government acknowledges in its recent publication No Dirty Money, “with the right mechanisms it is possible to seek transparency and justice in restitution of plundered assets. Cooperation with the country of origin, political will, and close monitoring offer the best guarantees that the funds will be used to benefit the people and not be misappropriated once again.”  We urge the Swiss government not to lose sight of this fine statement of policy when considering the return of assets to Uzbekistan.

In one of its statements the Swiss government outlined its reasoning for not setting up a Bota Foundation type solution: "Restitution through a foundation proved to be administratively cumbersome". We are very disappointed that for the SFDFA considerations of justice and restitution of the victims of corruption were outweighed by a desire to be rid of the assets as soon as possible with as little of administrative burden as possible.

We call upon the Swiss government:
  • to take a firm and responsible approach to asset restitution by setting certain conditions that would guarantee that the funds returned were not again stolen but go instead to further the well-being of the Uzbek people. Any arrangement for the return of Uzbek assets should work to encourage the government of Uzbekistan to maintain its commitments for reforms and take serious, measurable steps towards establishing effective anti-corruption mechanisms and the rule of law. These reforms should proceed rather than follow any asset return, as all too often reforms are promised, but never delivered.
  • to launch an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the implementation of projects funded out of the $48M restituted to Kazakhstan in 2015.
  • to postpone the decision on repatriation of Uzbek assets until this investigation is complete. The result of this investigation may have implications for Swiss policy on the modality of restitution. Swiss authorities should recognize that Uzbekistan still lags far behind even Kazakhstan in transparency and accountability standards, and in the ability of watchdog organizations to operate, so the risk of even more irregularities in the use of returned assets in Uzbekistan is greater should the Swiss federal government decide to return assets without appropriate safeguards attached.
  • to make its commitment to fighting grand corruption the first priority in its policy on asset return to Uzbekistan and to contribute more attention, time, and resources to ensure the proceeds of corruption are returned responsibly, in the long-term development interests of the Uzbek people.


KEY INFORMATION:

Uzbek assets:

In 2012, the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Switzerland launched a criminal investigation into the origins of assets on the bank accounts of Takilant, LTD, Swisdorn, LTD and other shell companies the beneficial owner of which was Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the former Uzbek president Islam Karimov. The Prosecutor’s Office froze assets valued at 800 million Swiss francs held in accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere and filed criminal charges against several close associates of Gulnara Karimova on the suspicion of money laundering. The aforementioned amount of 800 million CHF was a bribe paid to Gulnara Karimova by telecom companies in exchange for promoting their businesses in Uzbekistan. The investigation by the Swiss prosecutor’s office led to the collapse of Karimova’s once-expansive financial empire, criminal convictions for her closest associates, ostracism, and a criminal investigation for Karimova herself leading to her imprisonment in 2017. Karimova’s trial proceeded in violation of all international standards, with no right provided for Karimova to choose her defense, with no public transparency, and was in fact staged in the kitchen of her own house. It is our understanding that SFDFA is planning to return the assets to the government of Uzbekistan very soon, despite all concerns raised earlier by civil society groups regarding such a scenario.

Kazakh assets:

The recent return of $48 million to the government of Kazakhstan is a second tranche related to the scandal known as “Kazakhgate“. The first tranche of $115 million was repatriated in 2008 through the charitable Bota Foundation that was administered by a board accountable to its three founding countries, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and the United States, as well as the World Bank. The experience of Bota Foundation was widely praised as a model for responsible return of stolen assets that met standards of transparency and accountability and provided mechanisms for secure checks and balances in disposal of funds in interests of Kazakh people.

The recently returned second tranche of $48 million stands in total opposition to the Bota Foundation model in terms of transparency and accountability. It evolves from a 2011 corruption prosecution in Geneva, relating to a currently unknown Kazakh figure. Parties to the case agreed that the money would be returned to Kazakh government. Switzerland decided to use the World Bank Trust Fund as a means to return these assets to Kazakhstan and monitor its use. The Agreement was signed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the World Bank on 20 December 2012. Out of this amount, $21.76 million has been apportioned to the so-called Youth Corp Program, with the agreement for this project signed in 2015 between the World Bank and the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science as the implementing agency. The second part, in the amount of $23.06 million, was allocated in the same year for an energy efficiency project to be implemented by the Ministry of Investments and Development.

According to our information at least one of these two projects, the Youth Corp Program, is accompanied by a number of irregularities which may be described as money laundering.

To begin with, the World Bank did not disclose to the Kazakh public that the money for both projects originates from the assets frozen and confiscated by Swiss authorities in the money laundering case committed by a Kazakh citizen, most likely by a top official and his associates. Instead, the bank presented this grant as having been allocated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SADC). Thus, the Kazakh society was misled on the origin of the funds. It was not money allocated out of the Swiss public finance, but, in fact, was the repatriation of assets stolen from the Kazakh people and retuned through the very same public office that might itself have been instrumental in the original criminal conduct.

Secondly, there have been a number of transactions possibly made with conflicts of interest. Here are only few examples:
  • Aliya Bizhanova, who has acted on behalf of the World Bank as Operations Officer responsible for the Youth Corp Project, is reportedly herself a co-founder of the Kazakh Society of Researchers in the Field of Education. This non-profit had received a grant from the World Bank’s Youth Corp project (grant No 140840014775). It turns out that Bizhanova acted in this case in two capacities, representing two parties, the one allocating funds and another receiving these funds. Furthermore, the head of this non-profit is Aida Sagintayeva who is, in turn, a niece of Bakhytjan Sagintayev, the current Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. Aliya Bizhanova is reportedly also a co-founder or ultimate owner of other NGOs that received grants out of the Youth Corp project.
  • The Coordinating Agency, which is responsible for distributing 92% of the funds of the Youth Corps project, is a quasi-government consortium made up of three organizations. It is led by the Congress of Kazakhstan Youth whose chair is the eldest daughter of the President, Dariga Nazarbayeva. There is a likelihood that Dariga Nazarbayeva may have influence over the Coordinating Agency due to her position in the Congress of Kazakhstan Youth and could therefore have influence over the distribution of funds. As a result, the project might have been politically instrumentalized – resulting in propagandistic rhetoric in youth policy documents published by government centres on how to mold a new generation of patriotic Kazakhs prepared to do their utmost for the motherland. Thus, the SADC may have found itself an unwitting co-funder of a scope of a ‘Komsomol-style’ organization.
  • There is also information that some organizations that received grants out of the Youth Corp project are not legitimate entities and do not exist at addresses where they have been registered.
There are similar problems with how the World Bank is administering funds allocated by the Swiss government to Kazakhstan, but it would be better if the Swiss authorities had themselves acquired better understanding of how the funds they have allocated to the Kazakh government are being used in reality.

Nadejda Atayeva, on behalf of Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Le Mans, France, 

Umida Niyazova, on behalf of Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Berlin, Germany,    

Jodgor Obid, Uzbek political refugee, resident of Austria    

Dilya Erkinzoda, Uzbek political refugee, resident of Sweden

Ulughbek Haydarov, journalist, former political prisoner, resident of Canada

Alisher Taksanov, journalist, political emigrant, resident of Switzerland

Alisher Abidov, political emigrant, resident of Norway

Rozlana Taukina, Federation of Equal Journalists, Kazakhstan

Irina Savostina, Republican Movement “Generation”, Kazakhstan

Dametken Alenova, NGO “Unity”, Kazakhstan  




16.5.18

US: Focus on Rights as Uzbek Leader Visits

Congress Should Press for Further Reforms


Фото: UzDaily
(Washington, DC) – Uzbekistan’s president’s meeting with President Donald Trump on May 16, 2018, comes at a time when the Uzbek government has taken steps to improve human rights but needs to translate them into sustainable, structural improvements, 12 human rights organizations said today.

Since assuming the presidency in September 2016 after President Islam Karimov’s death, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ordered the release of at least 28 political prisoners, including 10 journalists, relaxed certain restrictions on free expression, and publicly spoken on the need to rein in the country’s feared security services and to end forced labor in the country’s cotton fields. Such moves have offered hope that Uzbek authorities could meaningfully improve the country’s human rights situation and carry out sustainable reforms. But egregious rights abuses, including internet censorship, politically motivated imprisonment, torture, a lack of competitive electoral processes, and a lack of justice for serious past abuses remain to be addressed.

At this hopeful time for Uzbekistan, the government should ensure that the modest steps already taken in the right direction lead to enduring and effective human rights protection for all of Uzbekistan’s citizens,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US Congress should make clear that reform it can believe in requires sustained concrete changes.”

Congress has long sought to address Uzbekistan’s severe human rights situation through the conditioning of US military assistance in the Foreign Appropriations Act on efforts to combat torture and release political prisoners. It has also provided special scrutiny of Tashkent’s adherence to religious freedom principles through the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The organizations are Amnesty International, Article 19, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders, and the Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights.

On May 7, a Tashkent court acquitted three people accused on politically motivated charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. It convicted the fourth defendant, Bobomurod Abdullaev, an independent journalist, but fined him without imposing a prison sentence. On May 12, the authorities also freed a labor rights and political activist, Fahriddin Tillaev, imprisoned since 2013. But thousands of people imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including for extremism (articles 159, 216, 244-1, and 244-2 of the Criminal Code), remain behind bars.

Among them are Andrei Kubatin and Akrom Malikov, scholars; Mirsobir Hamidkariev, a film producer; Aramais Avakyan, a fisherman; Dilorom Abdukodirova, Ruhiddin Fahriddinov (Fahrutdinov), Rovshan Kosimov, and Nodirbek Yusupov, all religious believers; and Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist.

Human rights groups urged members of Congress to raise these cases during Mirziyoyev’s White House visit and to call on the Uzbek government to immediately release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges, providing them with full rehabilitation and access to adequate medical treatment. Members of Congress should once again remind the US administration that human rights should be a core pillar of US foreign policy, including in bilateral discussions with Uzbek government officials.

The groups also said that the Uzbek government should amend its criminal code provisions relating to extremism that are commonly used to criminalize dissent (Articles 159, 216, 244-1 and 244-2), and to bring the criminal code into compliance with Uzbekistan’s international human rights obligations.

We are heartened to see the release of long-held activists,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “To ensure lasting change, the repressive legal framework used to persecute and imprison peaceful activists and religious believers on ill-defined charges of extremism for so many years should be changed for good.”

In November 2017, Mirziyoyev signed a decree prohibiting the courts from using evidence obtained through torture, and forbidding legal decisions based on any evidence not confirmed during trial. The decree, which came into force in March, states that prosecutors will be required to check whether physical or psychological pressure was exerted on a defendant or their relatives. If enforced, the decree could help prevent torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek officials have indicated an openness to cooperate with United Nations experts by inviting those who have requested access to the country to visit. The US Congress should urge the Uzbek government to combat systematic torture by allowing the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit the country during 2018, closing Uzbekistan’s Jaslyk prison, and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the international Convention Against Torture – all longstanding recommendations by UN bodies, the groups said.

It is important that Uzbek officials have acknowledged the importance of the work by UN experts and human rights groups,” said Kate Barth, legal director at Freedom Now, “but Tashkent should follow through on longstanding recommendations to allow in the UN’s expert on the prevention of torture, close the notorious Jaslyk prison, and ratify Torture Convention’s Optional Protocol.”

May 13 marked 13 years since Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Andijan following mass protests connected with the trial of 23 local businessmen on charges of Islamic extremism. The government has never acknowledged the full scale of the killings nor the persecution of witnesses, journalists, and other human rights activists who reported on the events. Hundreds of people convicted in flawed trials after the protest remain in prison and hundreds more who fled the country have been unable to return home.

Many Uzbeks are inspired by the pace of change in the country, but Uzbekistan can only truly move forward by providing accountability for serious abuses of the past, including for the events in Andijan in 2005,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, program officer at Civil Rights Defenders. “We hope Uzbekistan’s international partners will press the Uzbek government to allow a full accounting of what occurred and ensure that Uzbek society can examine those painful events without fear of retaliation.” 




18.4.18

New names for new times: updated lists of prisoners imprisoned on politically motivated grounds in Uzbekistan

Since October 2017, 29 civil society activists have been released from prisons in Uzbekistan (see list below), giving a clear sign of a move towards liberalization of treatment of those who are critical of the authorities. However, these releases have not significantly changed the attitude of the ruling authorities in Uzbekistan towards the free expression of opinion, especially if criticism of the authorities is involved.

Our analysis shows that those released activists remain on confidential "black" lists kept by the intelligence services. Former prisoners are kept under supervision for longer periods of time than those provided for in the criminal-procedural code. By law, former prisoners are required to register with the internal affairs each month for the first year following their release, but in practice some former prisoners are told to do this for up to three years, during which time the threat of re-arrest for violating the terms of supervision (parole) regime remains present.

These restrictions are imposed by the authorities in the name of crime prevention. However, in practice they impede former prisoners from moving freely, both within the country and abroad, even for urgent medical care. On 4 December 2017, former Member of Parliament Murad Djuraev[1] died in Uzbekistan. He was released from detention in 2015 after serving 21 years’ but was not given permission to leave Uzbekistan until October 2017, and did not manage to leave before he died.

The grounds for release from detention of these activists was either early release or else because they had served their prison sentences. None benefitted from amnesty.

Over the past decades in Uzbekistan, there have been no cases of former prisoners imprisoned on politically motivated grounds being rehabilitated or pardoned. It is therefore too early to regard the recent releases as a concrete sign of political reform, as the representatives of the Uzbek government would have the international community believe.

The articles of the Criminal Code which are used against civil society activists and which were regularly used under former President Karimov against dissidents and critics and which are still in force today include: 
– 120 "homosexuality",
 159 ("Violations of the constitutional system of the Republic of Uzbekistan"),
 223 ("Illegal departure abroad or illegal entry into the Republic of Uzbekistan").
 244-1 ("Making or distributing materials containing a threat to public safety and public order").
 244-2 ("Creation, leadership, participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other prohibited organizations").
 221 ("Disobedience of the lawful requirements of the administration of the institution for the execution of punishment"). This article is very often applied to prisoners serving politically motivated sentences with the aim of extending their term of imprisonment. The charges of violation of prison rules are often obtained from other prisoners in exchange for a reduction of their prison terms. According to our information few charges have been brought under this article since August 2017.

Four people were convicted last year:
     –  Akram Malikov, political critic, author of publications under the name "Abdulloh Nusrat") – convicted of “attempt on the constitutional order of Uzbekistan” Article 159 of criminal code and sentenced to six years imprisonment;
     –  Rustam Abdumanopov, - political critic convicted of “attempt on the constitutional order of Uzbekistan” Article 159 of criminal code and sentenced to six years imprisonment;
     –  Musazon Babadzhanov, serving a conditional sentence (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
     –  Andrei Kubatin, 1984 serving an 11-year sentence (Oriental academic, associate professor)[2];

Currently, independent journalists and correspondents of the "Fergananews" news agency, Bobomurod Abdullayev and Khayotkhon Nasreddinov, are standing trial on what may believe to be politically motivated charges. Bobomurod Abdullyaev and Khayotkhon Nasreddinov both told the court in March 2018 that they were forced to confess under duress and torture.

In order to achieve lasting reform on the political sphere, it is imperative that President Mirziyoyev’s government undertakes the following steps:
          1) Rehabilitate civil society activists, independent journalists and political activists who have been released from detention and those who are currently serving prison sentences in retribution for their peaceful professional activities;
          2) Ensure that those who are released from detention are allowed freedom of movement in order to seek necessary medical attention abroad;
          3) Review the cases of civil society activists, independent journalists and those who were imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds in retribution for their peaceful activities and, should it be found that they were wrongfully arrested ensure that they receive adequate monetary compensation for moral and physical harm;
          4) Establish a commission to determine the personal responsibility of state representatives who issued prison sentences for politically motivated reasons, as well as those involved in torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment;
          5) To bring all officials involved in the practice of torture to justice in fair, transparent proceedings.
         6) To establish a truth and justice body including international experts to investigate past human rights violations and ensure that those found guilty are brought to justice in fair and transparent proceedings.

Civil society activists and journalists who remain in detention include:
1. Fakhriddin Tillayev (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");
2. Rukhddin Fakhriddinov, (Theologian);
3. Dilorom Abdukodirova, (Witness of the Andijan tragedy, 2005);
4. Aziz Yusufov, (Independent journalist);
5. Akrom Malikov, (Critic, author of publications under the name "Abdulloh Nusrat");
6. Rustam Abdumanopov, (Political scientist);
7. Bobromud Abdullaev (Correspondent of the Fergananews News Agency);
8. Hayotkhon Nasreddinov (Correspondent of the Fergananews News Agency);
9. Andrei Kubatin, (Oriental academic, associate professor);
10. Mirsyar Khamidokriyev, (producer)

Released from 2014 to April 2018:

1. Azam Formonov (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
2. Mehriniso Hamdamova (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
3. Zhulhumor Khamdamova (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
4. Isroiljon Kholdarov  (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
5. Nosim Iskhakov (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
6. Gaibulo Jalilov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
7. Matlyuba Kamilova, Human rights activist and lawyer;
8. Ganikhon Mamathanov (Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Persons of Uzbekistan);
9. Chuyan Mamatkulov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
10. Yuldash Rasulov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
11. Zafarjon Rakhimov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
12. Bobomurod Razzakov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
13. Agzam Turgunov, (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");
14. Dilmurod Saidov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
15. Solijon Abdurakhmanov, (Independent journalist);
16. Guarat Mikhliboyev, (Independent journalist);
17. Yusuf Ruzymuradov, (Correspondent of the newspaper "Erk" of the same name of the opposition party "ERK");
18. Muhammad Bekhanov, (Correspondent of the newspaper "Erk" of the same name of the opposition party "ERK");
19. Erkin Musayev, (former UN staff formerly worked in the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Defense, engaged in international cooperation programs with Western governments, including the United States and the EU);
20. Murod Djuraev, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);
21. Samandar Kukonov, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);
22. Kudratbek Rasulov, (Member of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan (NDU));
23. Rustam Usmanov, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);
24. Khayrullo Khamidov, (Journalist, poet and radio broadcaster, widely known for his religious sermons);
25. Bahrom Ibragimov - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
26. Davron Kabilov - employee of academic public magazine "Irmok";
27. Ravshanbek Vafoev - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
28. Botirbek Eshkoziev, - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
29. Davron Todjiev -  employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";

Deaths in detention:
30. Akrom Yuldashev (Religious and spiritual leader known in Andijan and Ferghana Valley);
31. Nouraddin Djumanianozov, (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");



[1] Murad Djuraev died on 4 December 2017 – he was not given permission to travel abroad for necessary medical treatment for nearly two years. https://ahrca.eu/uzbekistan/defenders/976-murad-djuraev-has-passed-away-but-will-live-forever-in-our-hearts
[2] On 14th February 2018, the wife of Uzbekistani academic Andrei Kubatin published an appeal to the Ombudsman for Human Rights on her Facebook page in which she said that her husband had been convicted of treason by a military court on 1st December 2017 and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment.The prosecution claimed that Kubatin had sold electronic books, allegedly from the Central State Archive of Uzbekistan and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences, to a foreign citizen (the then head of TIKA – Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency under the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan and Turkey – Suleiman Kiziltoprak) for 1,000 USD. The prosecution claimed that these books could be used for pan-Turkism propaganda, inciting inter-ethnic and inter-religious hostility, as well as for obtaining information about the geological wealth of Uzbekistan. TIKA employee Muzaffar Zhoniyev, who was present at discussions between the academic and Kiziltoprak, wrote to the SNB. Kubatin alleges that a number of procedural violations were committed during the trial. For example, the academic believes that the assessment of the value of the materials transferred was not objective. On 21st February 2018, Radio Ozodlik reported that well known academics appealed to President Mirziyoyev to review the case personally.





APPENDIX:

In accordance with paragraph "C" of the Resolution of the European Parliament on Human Rights in Uzbekistan (2014/2904 (RSP))[1], in accordance with Rules 135 (5) and 123 (4) of the Rules of Procedure, a list of 34 prisoners was adopted, including public, political and religious figures, victims of the Andijan tragedy, who were deprived of liberty for politically motivated reasons.

The list included: Fifteen Human Rights Defenders:
1. Azam Formonov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
2. Mehrinino Hamdamova, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
3. Zhulhumor Khamdamova, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
4. Isroilzhon Hold'orov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
5. Nosim Iskhakov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
6. Gaibulo Jalilov,  (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
7. Nuraddin Djumanianozov,  (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");
8. Matlyuba Kamilova, Human rights activist and lawyer;
9. Ganikhon Mamatkhanov, (Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Persons of Uzbekistan);
10. Chuyan Mamatkulov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
11. Zafarjon Rakhimov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
12. Yuldash Rasulov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan - HCHU);
13. Bobomurod Razzakov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
14. Fakhriddin Tillayev, (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");
15. Agzam Turgunov, (Human Rights Center "Mazlum");

Five journalists:
16. Dilmurod Saidov, (Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik");
17. Solijon Abdurakhmanov, (Independent journalist);
18. Guitar Mikhliboyev, (Independent journalist);
19. Yusuf Ruzimuradov, (Correspondent of the opposition newspaper "Erk";
20. Muhammad Bekhanov, Former editor of the opposition newspaper "Erk".

Four representatives of the political opposition:
21. Murod Dzhuraev, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);
22. Samandar Kukonov, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);
23. Kudratbek Rasulov, (Member of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan (NDU));
24. Rustam Usmanov, (Former Deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan);

Three religious figures:
25. Rukhiddin Fakhriddinov, (Theologian);
26. Khayrullo Khamidov, (Journalist, poet and radio broadcaster, widely known for his religious sermons).
27. Akram Yuldashev (Religious and spiritual leader known in Andijan and Ferghana Valley);

Seven other government critics and witnesses of the Andijan tragedy:

28. Botirbek Eshkoziev, -  employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
29. Bahrom Ibragimov - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
30. Davron Kabilov - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";";
31. Davron Tojiev - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
32. Ravshanbek Vafeev - employee of the academic public magazine "Irmok";
33. Dilorom Abdukodirova - Witness of the Andijan Tragedy of 2005;
34. Erkin Musayev, 1967 - UN employee, formerly worked in the Department of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Defense in the past, engaged in international cooperation programs with Western governments, including the United States and the EU.


13.4.18

International community must address accountability for past human rights abuses in Uzbekistan

On 11 April 2018 the International Partnership for Human Rights, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and Amnesty International delivered a statement during the pre-session for the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Uzbekistan’s human rights record to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2018. The organizations highlighted some of the main concerns, including violations of freedom of expression and association and torture and other ill-treatment, and called on the representatives of Permanent Missions to the UN to raise these concerns with the Uzbekistani authorities.

Statement delivered at the UPR Pre-session 30: Uzbekistan

Dear representatives of Permanent Missions,

I am speaking on behalf of International Partnership for Human Rights, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and Amnesty International, all of whom prepared submissions for the review of Uzbekistan.

During the last UPR, Uzbekistan received 203 recommendations of which it accepted 145, of which it considered 30 as already implemented, and rejected 58.

Since coming to power, President Mirziyoyev [Mirzioiev] has taken some positive steps to facilitate external scrutiny of the situation in Uzbekistan, such as allowing visits by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and some international human rights organizations to Uzbekistan. Under the President’s leadership Uzbekistan has also eased certain restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, undertaken a programme of judicial reform to ensure judicial protection for the rights and freedoms of citizens, and released a number of government critics, including human rights defenders and opposition political activists, who served long prison sentences on politically-motivated grounds. 

However, research by our organizations show that the government has failed to implement key recommendations from the last UPR with respect to accountability, freedom of expression and association, and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. I will highlight some of our main concerns:

Freedom of expression and association:
Uzbekistan has failed to comprehensively address unwarranted restrictions on civil society's ability to exercise their fundamental rights to freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing politically-motivated persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders, independent journalists and government critics. Tight state controls on NGO registration, funding and activities, coupled with ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information, prevent independent media outlets and human rights NGOs from operating effectively and safely in Uzbekistan.  

We urge Permanent Missions to address the following key recommendations to Uzbekistan during its upcoming review:
  • Investigate reports about the persecution of independent journalists, bloggers, civil society activists and other government critics, as well as their family members and bring perpetrators to justice;
  • Ensure that the cases against independent journalists and, civil society activists and all others imprisoned on politically motivated grounds are reviewed in line with Uzbekistan’s human rights obligations, and that international fair trial standards are fully upheld when their appeal is heard; 
  • Immediately and unconditionally release from detention all those who are imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to fundamental freedoms;
  • Allow the media to operate without government interference and ensure free access to foreign sources of information;
  • Allow NGOs to operate without excessive government restrictions;
  • Cease depriving refugees living outside Uzbekistan of their Uzbekistani citizenship to punish them for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression. 

Torture and ill-treatment

Despite the President's judicial reform efforts and his November 2017 decree explicitly prohibiting the use of torture to obtain confessions and their admission as evidence in court proceedings, judges continue to ignore or dismiss allegations of torture or other ill-treatment as unfounded, even when presented with credible evidence in court. For example, in a recent case a judge invoked the President’s decree and ordered an investigation into torture allegations made by two independent journalists after they presented credible evidence in court that they had been tortured to compel them to confess. However, the investigation was not independent, impartial and thorough, and concluded that it was impossible to establish the cause of the defendants’ injuries. Nevertheless, the judge admitted the confessions as evidence. The procedural violations which occurred, when both defendants were held for substantial periods of time in incommunicado detention heighten concerns that the investigation into their torture allegations was flawed.

We urge Permanent Missions to address the following key recommendations to the government of Uzbekistan:
  • Establish an independent body to review all complaints of torture or other ill-treatment, bring perpetrators to justice in fair proceedings and offer reparation to victims and their families;
  • Establish an effective system of independent, unannounced inspections of all places of detention by independent and impartial bodies;
  • Set a time frame for a visit to Uzbekistan by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture;
  • Close prison colony No. 64/73 “Jaslyk” in accordance with recommendations from the Special Rapporteur against Torture in his report from 2003;
  • Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses including particularly torture or other ill-treatment;
  • Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and enact implementing legislation.

More information and recommendations on these and other issues can be found in our reports.

Thank you for your attention!


10.4.18

Update on human rights developments in Uzbekistan ahead of its Universal Periodic Review


In May 2018 Uzbekistan’s human rights record will be scrutinized in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a state peer review mechanism carried out under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.
    
A submission for this review prepared by Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA)International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and CIVICUS outlined the failure of Uzbekistan’s government to implement key recommendations it received during the previous UPR of the country in 2013.
  
This joint report prepared by AHRCA and IPHR provides an update to the October 2017 submission, outlining developments which have occurred since October 2017 pertaining to the rule of law and highlights ongoing human rights concerns including torture, ill-treatment and poor prison conditions and limitations on the freedom of expression and assembly. The document raises concerns that independent journalists continue to be imprisoned and subjected to torture and ongoing cases of government critics who face persecution, harassment and who are subjected to travel restrictions.  It concludes with recommendations to the Uzbekistani government.
  
IPHR representatives are attending the pre-session meeting for the UPR review in Geneva on 11 April, and will be presenting joint statements highlighting our ongoing concerns.
  

  
Introduction
    
This briefing provides an update to the submission to UN 3rd Universal Periodic Review jointly submitted by Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership on Human Rights (IPHR) and CIVICUS in October 2017 on the situation regarding human rights in Uzbekistan. It outlines developments which have occurred since October 2017 pertaining to the rule of law and highlights ongoing human rights concerns including torture, ill-treatment and poor prison conditions and limitations on the freedom of expression and assembly. The document raises concerns that independent journalists continue to be imprisoned and subjected to torture and ongoing cases of government critics who face persecution, harassment and who are subjected to travel restrictions.  It concludes with recommendations to the Uzbekistani government. 
   
Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power he and his government have taken pains to improve Uzbekistan’s image in the eyes of the international community. They have indeed taken some positive steps indicating a greater openness to engage on human rights and to facilitate external independent scrutiny of the situation in Uzbekistan. These steps include a planned programme of judicial reforms; allowing the first visit to Uzbekistan by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 2017, a visit by the UN special rapporteur on the freedom of religion and belief, for the first time since 2002, and allowing representatives of Human Rights Watch to visit in September 2017for the first time since the Director of the Europe and Central Asia division paid a short visit in 2014. Most notably, since President Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016, at least 18 activists imprisoned on politically motivated grounds have been released.  However other civil society and political activists and journalists still remain behind bars, some of whom are serving long sentences in poor detention conditions.
            
Rule of law
  
An action plan on judicial reform approved by the President in February 2017  sets out to achieve genuine judicial independence; increase the effectiveness and authority of the judiciary; and ensure judicial protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens.
  
A Supreme Judicial Council was also created under the new administration to oversee the judiciary – although there is concern amongst human rights organizations that its members will be comprised of representatives of law enforcement authorities, in addition to judges and external experts. All members of the Judicial Council will be appointed by the President, except the Chairperson whose candidature will be presented by the President for Parliamentary approval. Representatives of law enforcement authorities will thus be involved in the selection of judges and disciplinary proceedings. The new body therefore risks perpetuating the influence of the executive over the judiciary, jeopardizing the right to a fair trial and contributing to impunity for human rights violations.
  
Changes to the structure of State Security Services (SNB)  
                                                                                                  
President Mirziyoyev’s government has taken some steps to address the systematic abuse of power for which the State Security Services (Russian acronym - SNB) became notorious in past decades. On 22 December 2017, President Mirziyoyev told parliament that the agency had frequently obstructed the functioning of the justice system and decried the “groundless expansion of the agency’s powers.”  On 31 January 2018, the government announced the resignation and replacement of the head of the SNB Rustam Inoyatov, whose 22 year term was notorious for reports of pervasive torture and ill-treatment by the security services. Inoyatov was replaced by former Prosecutor General Ikhtiyor Abdullayev. On 14 March 2018, President Mirziyoyev signed an order on reforming the activities of the National Security Service, proposing to rename it the State Security Service and outlining its goals as ensuring state security from foreign and internal threats, execution of intelligence and counter-intelligence operations, protection of the state borders, as well as fighting against terrorism, organized crime and corruption.
     
However, despite the President’s public comments, most processes and procedures concerning the SNB remain shrouded in secrecy, reliable information is not available to the public and victims of human rights abuses by SNB officials are no nearer to justice. In order to ensure that these changes are not simply a restructuring of the SNB, but lead to systematic and sustainable improvements, the Uzbekistani authorities must prioritize accountability. They must take the necessary measures to ensure a full analysis and judicial review of past cases of torture and ill-treatment committed by officials of the SNB. Such a review should be transparent and open to public scrutiny and those found guilty of torture should be brought to account through a fair and open judicial procedure. 
  
Given the extent of the pervasive practice of torture used by the SNB, and the fact that this body had sole responsibility for investigating and prosecuting cases of so-called “anti-constitutional” crimes the cases of all those imprisoned on these charges should be independently reviewed.
                                                        
Torture and ill-treatment 
     
In recent months, President Mirziyoyev has taken some steps to address the deep rooted problem of routine use of torture and ill-treatment by the law enforcement services, particularly the SNB. 
   
On 30 November 2017, he signed a decree prohibiting the use in court of evidence obtained through torture, and forbade legal decisions on the basis of any evidence that was not confirmed during trial. The decree instructs prosecutors in charge of criminal cases to check whether physical or psychological pressure has been used in relation to defendants or their relatives. 
   
In addition amendments to the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan introduce criminal responsibility for falsifying evidence by making knowingly false statements, compelling someone to give evidence that is untrue, distorting the actual circumstances of the case resulting in unlawful detention, criminal liability or conviction of a person. Severe penalties for perjury were also introduced. The decree obliges law enforcement agencies to make video recordings of investigative activities such as inspection of the scene of a crime, searches, verification of evidence and investigative experiment. The decree came into force by a law 470 of 4 April 2018 which strengthened punishments for use of torture and ill-treatment. We note that before the amendments were introduced, Article 235 of the Criminal Code contained a number of obstacles to holding those involved in torture to be held accountable.
    
Positive developments occurred in the case of brothers Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov who were tortured by officers of the National Security Service in a detention facility in Bukhara in 2015. Ilhom died in custody and Rahim was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for alleged tax and commercial offences. Both men had reportedly refused to comply with extortion demands from SNB officers and threatened to expose alleged corruption in the security services. In 2017 Rahim Ibodov was released from detention conditionally on health grounds. On 6 February 2018, court bailiffs confiscated property from the Ibodov family home, as stated in the 2016 court ruling. In early March 2018 the Prosecutor of Bukhara informed Rahim Ibodov by phone that the criminal case had been passed to the General Prosecutor’s office for review. On 13-15 March Rahim was summoned to a meeting in Tashkent to meet the investigator. On 9 March 2018, Tashkent City Criminal Court ordered the arrest of the former head of the Central Penal Correction Department (GUIN), who was detained pending trial. He is facing charges of "Abuse of power" (Article 301 of the Criminal Code) and of “incriminating an innocent person” (Article 230). 
     
While we acknowledge that the Uzbekistani authorities are taking steps to bring officials to account for torture or ill-treatment, it is important to note that the officials have been  accused under other articles of the Criminal Code rather than Article 235 which punishes torture. It is important to ensure that punishments are commensurate with the gravity of crimes committed and to avoid perpetuating impunity for torture.
    
Reports of torture and ill-treatment continue, notably in the case of independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev who was arrested in September 2017 and held on politically-motivated charges in a detention centre run by the SNB. At his trial on 7 March 2018 Bobomurod Abdullayev told the court he had been subjected to torture, and the judge ordered a forensic examination. Abdullayev reported that he was repeatedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in detention,  kept in a freezing cell naked and forced to stand for long periods of time, denied food on several occasions and repeatedly tied to a bed in his cell for several hours at a time. He showed bruising on his body to the court. However, at the next court hearing on 15 March 2018, the court was told that the forensic examination had not concluded that Abdullayev had been tortured. The forensic examination was marked by procedural violations. 
                                                    
A full and transparent process of public accountability for torture and ill-treatment is essential to restore public trust in the criminal justice system in Uzbekistan. 
     
Prison conditions and torture and ill-treatment in prisons 
                
For the last two years, AHRCA has not received reports of prisoners being tortured in prison colonies, even by so-called “lochmachi” (prisoners who cooperate with prison officials to use force against fellow prisoners). Reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in pre-trial detention under the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the SNB continue.
                                
There have also been reports of ill-treatment and inadequate access to medical care from the Tashkent prison hospital “Sangorod”. Credible reports indicate that medical officers from Sangorod are in many cases negligent and indifferent to prisoners’ pain. There is a high mortality rate in Sangorod. Three former prisoners treated at Sangorod told AHRCA that prisoners had to queue for medication for hours and that those who complained risked being subjected to torture or ill-treatment. For example, a sick prisoner was tied to an iron chair and officials struck him until he lost consciousness. Prisoners in other prison colonies reportedly try to hide their illnesses in order not to be sent to Sangorod.
   
Prison conditions can amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. For example, prisoners exercise rights are restricted, and sometimes prisoners are reportedly made to exercise with a bag over their heads. Former prisoners reported that prisoners are sometimes also made to wear bags over their heads during transfer from one prison colony to another. Many such reports came from prisoners and relatives of those held in prison colony 64/71 in Jaslyk (Karakalpakistan), and reports indicate that these practices are being used in other prison colonies as well. 
  
Those who were convicted under Article 120 of the Criminal Code (homosexuality) and LGBT individuals are believed to experience particularly harsh conditions in prison, widespread discrimination and persistent threats of sexual violence.
    
Consideration of complaints from prisoners 
    
In prison colonies there are boxes in which inmates can deposit a complaint to the special prosecutor, the Ombudsman and the National Center for Human Rights. A survey of former prisoners shows that the complaints mechanisms are ineffective as complaints often do not reach the intended recipients and prison staff reportedly has keys to the complaint boxes.  Former prisoners also reported that when observers visit the prison colony prisoners who would ask uncomfortable questions or make critical comments are locked in their cells for the duration of the visit. 
                             
Inadequate food and water and poor sanitation 
      
Numerous reports indicate that prison food is extremely poor, inadequate in quantity and nutritional value. Some food is past its sell by date and incidents of food poisoning are not recorded. Drinking water is in short supply – with each prisoner reportedly receiving from one to three liters of water per week. According to the prisoners, the water allegedly stored in plastic containers which are often old and not always clean.
                  
Toilet facilities are inadequate – recent reports indicate 12 toilet urns and urinals for 300 inmates. Shower facilities are also reported to be in disrepair in many prison facilities. Conditions are unsanitary and water supplies are insufficient. Washbasins in cells and shower rooms often do not have enough water supplies due to the dilapidated condition of the drainage/ sewage system.
     
Freedom of Expression 
                         
President Mirziyoyev declared 2017 to be the “Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interest”,  issuing a Presidential Decree requiring state institutions to respond in a timely manner to citizens’ appeals and established a virtual reception service. The reception service gained popularity among the public as a way of reporting information on human rights violations to the Presidential Office as such appeals sometimes result in concrete action by the presidential administration. However, this service acts as a filter for complaints and positive results appear to depend primarily on winning Presidential support.
      
A genuine process of civic engagement is still in its early stages; and many state agencies are reportedly selective and reticent in their responses to complaints. For example, complaints and appeals from entrepreneurs and business people to official bodies often go unheeded, especially if they are critical of heads of administrations, tax departments and judicial bodies. 
  
Freedom of the Press 
  
Over the last year, Uzbekistan has seen tentative moves towards increased press freedom including a tolerance of some level of media reporting of issues which were previously taboo for coverage such as Presidential criticism of corruption amongst state officials.
    
However, despite these developments, overall the Uzbekistani authorities maintain tight control over the media and independent voices. In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Uzbekistan at 169th out of 180 countries, going down by 3 points, from 166th in 2016.  Uzbekistani legislation continues to restrict freedom of expression and the ability to engage in independent journalism.
  
A case which cast doubt on the government’s commitment to genuine media reform was the arrest of independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev, shortly before the Uzbekistani authorities hosted the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 19th Central Asian regional media conference in Tashkent in October 2017. (See below for details).
   
Although the President spoke out more openly with criticism of high ranking officials, individuals who do so or who express their opinions about government policies on social networks continue to be at risk of persecution, including by facing prosecution for “libel”. For example, on 21 February 2018, 59-year-old Abbas Nasretdinov was charged with “libel” and “insult” under Articles 40 and 41 of the Administrative Code in relation to comments he made about the administration in Uzbekistan including about Former President Islam Karimov on Facebook. If found guilty, he could face a fine of the equivalent of between 420 and 840 USD.  On 23 February 2018, the court of first instance returned the case for further investigation of the sources referred to by Abbas Nasretdinov in his posts.
                                   
State control of access to the internet and to proxy servers used to avoid censorship remains tight, with public access to independent news websites and social media periodically restricted.  On 14 February 2018, Eurasia.net reported that websites previously blocked such as Fergana news, BBC news and Voice of America as well as human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were accessible to users in Uzbekistan. It remains to be seen if this unrestricted access to these sites is permanent or temporary. 
   
State pressure against individuals who criticize the authorities 
   
Long-overdue releases: Since the beginning of 2017 at least 10 government critics imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds were released from detention including journalist and newspaper editor Muhammad Bekjanov; independent journalist Jamshid Karimov, who was released from the psychiatric hospital in Samarkand; former government official and UN employee Erkin Musaev; human rights activist Azam Farmonov, independent journalist and human rights activist Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov ; head of the “Mazlum” human rights organization Agzam Turgunov, ; and human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhonov. Journalist and human rights activist Dilmorod Saidov  was released from detention on 3 February 2018.
    
On 22 February 2018 Isroil Kholdarov Chairman of the Andijan regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik" was released from detention. On 2 March 2018 journalist Yusuf Ruzimuradov was also released from prison after spending 19 years behind bars.  On 16 March 2018 Gaybullo Dhalilov of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan was released from detention and on 20 March 2018 Chuan Matmakulov of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Yuldash Rasulov Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and independent journalist Gairat Mikliboev were also released from prison. 
   
In 2018 it became known that employees of the academic journal “Irmok” magazine Bahrom IbragimovDavron KabilovRavshanbek VafeevBotirbek Eshkoziev and Davron Todjiy were from prison at different times from 2015 onwards. Newly released prisoners were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement and only now that their terms of conditional release are coming to an end are they able to inform the international community about their situation.  Human rights defender and lawyer Matluba Kamilova who was released in October 2015 and human rights defender Zafarjon Rakhimov was also released in 2015. The releases from prison of Mekriniso Khamadova and Zulkumor Khamadova of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan were also confirmed.
     
Following a review of prisoner case files by a Special Commission established by President Mirziyoyev in September 2017,  2700 convicts were pardoned by presidential decree in December 2017, and 956 people were released from prison colonies, including people who were imprisoned on politically motivated grounds.  Amnesties and pardons can be in the form of a full or partial exemption from punishment, or conditional early release.
  
Nevertheless, a number of human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and other government critics remained behind bars in March 2018, including: 
Human rights defender –  Fakhriddin Tillaev;
Independent journalists – Aziz Yusupov Bobomurod Abdullayev; and Hayot Nasreddinov;
Dilorom Abdukodirova – a witness to the Andijan tragedy in 2005.
   
Recent arrests of independent journalists
                   
The detention of independent freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev by National Security Service (SNB) officials on 27 September 2017  in Tashkent indicates that independent journalists are still at risk of reprisals. Abdullayev was a correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Fergana.ru, which is periodically blocked in Uzbekistan. On 1 October 2017, he was charged with anti-constitutional activities (article 159.4 of the Criminal Code) during a closed hearing at Yunusobad District Court in Tashkent and remanded in custody. In November, the authorities extended his pre-trial detention by three months. On 14 December 2017, Bobomurod Abdullayev was allowed to see his defence lawyer for half an hour and for the first time since his arrest.  A SNB investigator was present throughout the meeting and he has come under pressure to refuse his defence lawyer. Abdullayev’s meetings with relatives were also restricted and he reported having been repeatedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in detention,  being kept in a freezing cell naked and forced to stand for long periods of time, denied food on several occasions and repeatedly tied to a bed in his cell for several hours at a time. On 8 February 2018, it was reported that two SNB officials implicated in the abuses had been suspended from the case and had been told not to leave the city pending an investigation. 
    
However, the first court hearing of the criminal case against Bobomurod Abdullayev and co-defendants including Hayot Nasreddinov (see below) took place on 7 March 2018. The judge ordered that claims of torture from Abdullayev and Nasreddinov be investigated but on 15 March the hearing resumed and the court was told that the forensic examination had not confirmed evidence that Abdullayev had been subjected to torture. But on 28 March, at a hearing at the Tashkent criminal court Bobomurod addressed the court saying: "I am not only addressing you, your honour, but everyone – I ask you not to believe the testimony attached to my criminal case! I was tortured to sign testimony not only against Muhammad Salih, but also against Charos Abdullaev, Nigara Khidoyatov, Nadejda Atayeva, Pakhlavon Turgunov, Shukhrat Babadzhan and his (younger) brother, Sirozhiddin Tolipov and Mukhabat Elibayeva, even against Gafur Rakhimov." I was told that “As soon as they step on the land of Uzbekistan, they will immediately be arrested," I wrote these testimonies as I was being subjected to inhuman torture, do not believe them”. The trial continues and the case for the prosecution is currently being heard.
  
On 20 October 2017 economist, blogger, journalist and civic activist Hayot Nasreddinov  was also arrested on politically-motivated charges related to those against Bobomurod Abdullayev. His relatives have not yet been informed of the grounds for the arrest, and there are fears that they have been put under pressure not to talk to journalists. He is currently being held in a SNB pre-trial detention centre in Tashkent. If convicted he could face up to 20 years in prison. Nasreddinov’s defence lawyer told the judge at the court hearing on 7 March 2018 that Nasreddinov had been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in detention. At the next hearing on 15 March, Hayot Nasreddinov pleaded guilty to the charges against him in Tashkent City Criminal Court. The trial date was announced with late notice therefore Nasreddinov’s lawyer did not have time to attend and he was provided with a state-appointed lawyer. There is serious concern that SNB officials pressurized him to confess. 
                    
Others were also implicated in the criminal case against him, including Akrom Malikov, 27-year old employee of the Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences who was detained by the SNB in 2016 in connection with critical articles allegedly published in opposition publications online.  He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in January 2017 after an unfair trial where he was not allowed to be represented by the lawyer of his choice. His family has refused to speak to journalists about the case.
   
Restrictions on travel 
    
In August 2017, the Uzbekistani authorities announced that from 1 January 2019, Uzbekistani citizens will no longer be required to apply for permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to leave the country and travel abroad. However, at the time of writing, critics of the authorities continue to have their freedom of movement restricted. In particular, people with links to international human rights organizations, independent journalists, former political prisoners and their relatives, and people who have publicly criticised the authorities often encountered problems obtaining exit visas to travel outside the country.
   
Former political prisoners also face difficulties in obtaining permission to travel abroad to undergo medical treatment or to join their family members who have fled the country.
  
For example, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Erk who was released in February 2017 has not yet been given permission to leave the country.  Human rights defender and writer Mamadali Makhmudov, who was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down on politically motivated grounds, has not been granted an exit visa, for which he has repeatedly applied since June 2016.
  
Other individuals not in detention, but who criticize or who are perceived to criticize the Uzbekistani authorities have also been arbitrarily denied permission to leave Uzbekistan. Artist Vyacheslav Akhunov finally obtained permission to travel abroad on 20 December 2017, after repeated requests since 2012.  Akhunov previously learned from an official contact that the refusal was due to his continued criticism of the authorities on social media.
   
Swift action is needed to ensure that former political prisoners are allowed to travel abroad for necessary medical treatment. Former prisoner and Member of Parliament Murad Djuraev was released from detention in 2016. He applied repeatedly for an exit visa which was finally issued to him, after international pressure, on 7 October 2017. Tragically he died from a heart attack on 4th December 2017, before he had a chance to leave Uzbekistan.
  
Journalists, bloggers and human rights activists face other harassment
  
In addition to imprisoning government critics, the authorities continue to use other methods of persecution against human rights activists, independent journalists and other individuals who speak out and voice their opinion or opposition to government policy. Such individuals are subjected to police interrogations, arbitrary arrests and other pressure.
  
For example: on 7 November 2017, artist Aleksandr Barkovski was detained for a few hours and questioned for an hour at the police department at Bukhara train station after taking photographs of a public toilet.
  
Independent journalist Sid Yanishev was detained twice in November and December 2017.  On 12 December, he was detained for 14 hours in the Tashkent village of Almazar, during which he was questioned by local police officers who confiscated his camera and Dictaphone.  He was subsequently transferred to the regional police department of Shaikhantursky District of Tashkent, where his fingerprints were taken. In order to be released from detention, Yanishev had to agree to “voluntarily” delete all information from his camera and dictaphone. 
  
On 22 February 2018, representatives of the delegation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) met with representatives of civil society in Uzbekistan. The human rights situation inside the country was discussed during these meetings. AHRCA learned that on the day of the EBRD meetings three of the independent NGO participants noticed they were being followed by representatives of the Central Internal Affairs Directorate of Tashkent (GUVD). 
  
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly 
   
Uzbekistani law protects the right to participate in peaceful meetings and demonstrations. Although the law provides that the organizers of meetings do not need to seek permission but only notify the authorities in advance, existing regulations perpetuated a system where advance permission in practice was needed. For example, a requirement introduced in 2016 stipulates that any written material that will be disseminated during an assembly should be submitted to the Ministry of Justice a month before the date of the planned meeting.  This requirement restricts the possibility for people to organize meetings at short notice or to gather spontaneously and provides the Ministry of Justice with the opportunity to delay permission for the distribution of materials, and hence disrupt assemblies.
  
No accountability for the Andijan tragedy
   
To date, the Uzbekistani authorities have yet to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the events of 13 May 2005, when law enforcement and security forces indiscriminately fired at a crowd of protesters in Babur Square, Andijan. Demonstrators had peacefully gathered to voice their grievances over repressive government policies and economic hardships. According to officials, 187 people were killed, but unofficial estimates put the number at between 500 and 1500. None of the officials involved in the shooting have been brought to justice. 
                                                          
Few peaceful protests
      
Against the background described above, many citizens remain fearful of reprisals for protesting and are therefore reluctant to participate in demonstrations. However, over 2017 some small peaceful protests were held with varying reactions from the authorities. 
   
During a visit by President Mirziyayev to Navoi region on 28 March 2017,  dozens of women and elderly from the village of Tasmachi in Khatirchinsky region travelled by bus to meet him and protest over insufficient electricity supply, high food prices and local corruption. However, the villagers claimed that the local authorities and traffic police blocked the roads out of the village to prevent them from meeting the President. 
     
Fergana News Agency  reported that on 15 August 2017, a spontaneous rally was held by hundreds of people outside the Supreme Court in Tashkent. Angered by the long wait for appointments the crowd of several hundred people reportedly pushed against the iron gates in front of the court, eventually breaking them down. Fergana.news quoted an eye witness as saying, “You should have seen what power these people demonstrated – they went into the court yard and building… the guards were running around everywhere… people’s nerves are exhausted”. On 19 August, the Supreme Court issued a communiqué  refuting the Fergana.news report. The Uzbek service of RFE/RL reported eyewitness accounts confirming the incident. 
    
According to the Fergana News Agency , on 22 August 2017, 85- year-old pensioner Nina Sahartseva and 80-year-old Yulia Syavich from Tashkent were standing with signs asking to meet President Mirziyoyev outside the presidential administration building in Tashkent.  After two hours, officials from the presidential administration came out and one grabbed the elderly women roughly by the hands and doused them with water as a result of which they were forced to leave.
     
Organizers of public rally detained
The public response to a situation of alleged bullying resulting in a student’s death illustrates the evolving nature of civic engagement and public demonstrations in Uzbekistan. On 1 June 2017, Zhasurbek Ibragimov, a student at the Borovskiy Medical College, died in Tashkent after being beaten up by unknown assailants on 3 May.  Civic activists Irina Zaidman and Maria Legler organized an online petition calling on the Uzbekistani authorities to find those responsible for Zhasurbek’s death and bring them to justice.  The petition received unprecedented public support and was signed by over 20 000 persons. At a rally held in Duslik Park on 4 June, Deputy Chief of the Tashkent Central Internal Affairs Directorate Doniyor Tashkhodzhaev assured the participants that this tragic case would be thoroughly investigated. However, on 15 November 2017, Zaidman was summoned to the police station, where she was detained. Police officers searched her house on the same day. The next day she and Legler were found guilty of organizing an unsanctioned meeting and sentenced to ten and 15 days of administrative detention, respectively.  Neither woman had a lawyer present at the closed hearing when they were sentenced, which is a violation of the Criminal Procedural Code of Uzbekistan. 
   
Recommendations to the Uzbekistani authorities 
       
1) Immediately and unconditionally release from detention all those who are imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to fundamental freedoms, including human rights defender Fakhriddin Tillaev, independent journalists Bobomurod AbdullayevHayot Nasreddinov and Aziz Yusupov and witness to the Andijan tragedy Dilorom Abdukodirova;
     
2) Investigate reports about the persecution of independent journalists, bloggers, civil society activists and other government critics, as well as their family members and bring perpetrators to justice;
                      
3) Rehabilitate civil society activists who have been released from detention and those who are currently serving prison sentences in retribution for their peaceful professional activities; 
                       
4) Ensure that those who are released from detention are allowed freedom of movement; 
                       
5) Pay adequate monetary compensation for the moral and physical damage inflicted civil society activists who were imprisoned as well as and other prisoners who were imprisoned on politically motivated grounds and victims of torture;
               
6) Establish a commission to determine the personal responsibility of state representatives who issued prison sentences for politically motivated reasons, as well as those involved in torture and other forms of ill- treatment;
              
7) Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses including particularly torture or other ill-treatment; 
                
8) Issue a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council and set a timeframe for the visit requested by the Special Rapporteur on Torture;  
        
9) Establish an effective system of independent, unannounced inspections of all places of detention by independent and impartial bodies; 
                  
10) Close prison colony No. 64/73 “Jaslyk” in accordance with recommendations from the Special Rapporteur against Torture in his report from 2003;
   
11) Remove restrictions on citizens of Uzbekistan wishing to return to their country of origin, regardless of how many years they have lived outside the country.
  
12) Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and enact implementing legislation.