Kazakhstan: Free jailed oil workers!

In partnership with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KSPK), with the support of the Confederation of Labour of Russia, IndustriAll GlobalUnion, the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia.
On December 16, 2011, the six-month standoff between striking oil workers and the KazMunaiGas corporation in the western Kazakhstan town of Zhanaozen escalated from a labour dispute into rioting, violence and the disproportionate use of force by law-enforcement bodies. This occurred with the complicity of the authorities, who stood idly by. This resulted in the death of seventeen and the wounding of several dozen people, including both protesting oil workers and innocent bystanders. Thirty seven people were tried, many of them receiving prison sentences. Seven remain in custody today: Tanatar Kaliev, Shabdal Utkilov, Talgat Saktaganov, Naryn Dzharilgasinov, Kanat Zhusipbaev, Maksat Dosmagambetov and Roza Tuletaeva. 

Civil society organizations in Kazakhstan, including the trade unions, have called on the government to amend legislation that stipulates liability for "inciting social discord." They want to make sure that such legislation is not used selectively to apply pressure on human rights activists and public figures, or trade unionists advocating legitimate demands with regard to labour relations.

The struggle for the release of the imprisoned oil workers is now being conducted by the free trade unions of Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. They are supported by their counterparts worldwide. This is not only a struggle for justice for individuals. It is a struggle for the right of all workers in Kazakhstan to unite, to strike and to struggle for decent working conditions, freedom of expression and a decent life.

You can help! 

On the Day of the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights please support a petition for freedom of Uzbek political prisoner Murad Djuraev!

Murad Djuraev is in prison for nearly 20 years. He sufferers for speaking out critically against dictator Islam Karimov. He was tortured and repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. He is serving the fifth consecutive term of imprisonment on trumped-up charges.

Murad Djuraev,
Murad Djuraev was born in 1952 in Mubarek city in Kashkadarya region. He is married and has three children. He graduated from the Tashkent Polytechnic Institute. From 1989 to 1992 he served as the chair of the Executive Committee of the City Council of Mubarek City. Between 1991-1992 he was a member of Parliament of Uzbekistan. Murad Djuraev was accused of conspiring with the leader of the “Erk” opposition political  party, Mukhammad Solih. According to the authorities, Solih and Djuraev tried to organise a violent coup. Since 18 September 1994 Murad Djuraev has been in prison.

On 31 March 1995 Murad Djuraev was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, to be served in a strict regime penal colony, and confiscation of property. On the basis of an amnesty, the sentence was reduced by three years.

Shortly before the end of his sentence term on 27 July 2004, Djuarev was convicted on trumped-up charges under Article 221 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan «Disobedience to the legal demands of the administration of the penal institution» for yet another three years of imprisonment. The same happened on 27 July 2006 when his, then, last sentence term was coming to the end; the prisoner was given an additional three years of imprisonment under Article 221 of the Criminal code of Uzbekistan. On 31 May 2009, using the same Article, his prison term was again extended by three years and four months. Among other reasons given – the punishment was given because he “improperly peeled carrots,” while working in the kitchen. On 13 November 2012, he completed his fourth sentence. On 4 December 2012, Murad Djuraev was sentenced again to three years and 24 days, once again under the Article 221 of the Criminal Code of Republic of Uzbekistan.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia urges you to sign a petition in support of freedom for Murad Djuraev who is subjected to torture, imprisonment and taken away from his loved ones.

Murad Djuraev remains faithful to the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Please send your signature in support to asiecentrale@neuf.fr or sign the online petition at "For freedom of Uzbek political prisoner Murad Djuraev!” 


Open letter to the EU Special Representative for Central Asia

Mrs. Patricia Flor
European Union Special Representative for Central Asia
European External Action Service
1046 Brussels

Berlin, 04/12/2013

Dear Mrs. Flor,

We are writing today to present the Cotton Campaign’s findings on the continuing use of forced labor of children and adults in the cotton harvest 2013 in Uzbekistan and to express our serious concern about the continued widespread and gross violations that Uzbek citizens are exposed to by the government of Uzbekistan. Please find enclosed the report of November 27, 2013. We ask the EU to conduct a robust and transparent human rights policy towards Uzbekistan in accordance with the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights, and to assess Tashkent’s compliance with specific benchmarks which will allow it to effectively measure progress.

We furthermore would like to bring to your attention the fact that during the last several months, human rights activists living in Europe are being threatened by the Uzbek government (see below for further information). We call on the EU to protect human rights activists in Europe with all appropriate means, especially through expressing state concern publicly and in meetings with the Uzbek government.

As you are aware, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is appalling. State use of torture continues systematically, which was confirmed recently by the November 2013 Conclusions of the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) following its review of the country. The Uzbek government interfered with the standard working procedures of the International Committee of the Red Cross to such an extent, including making impossible confidential visits with detainees and prisoners, that the organization took the rare step in April 2013 to announce publicly it had been forced to terminate its prison visits.

Eight years after the Andijan massacre with hundreds of largely peaceful protesters killed by Uzbek government forces, none of the responsible government representatives have been held accountable.

Only recently, the deaths of two persons in prison were reported to the public. According to the media service Uznews.net, on June 12, 2013, in Namangan region, the 28-year-old Muzaffar Karimov died of a „traumatic brain injury“ shortly after being arrested on suspicion of theft.

According to BBC O´zbek, on November 15, 2013, the authorities returned the body of a 36-year-old Tavakkal Hojiev from Andijan. He was sentenced in September 2005 to 17 years in prison, after having participated at the demonstration in Andijan that preceded the state’s use of deadly force.

Also, Uzbek citizens are denied their right to freedom of expression. The government does not allow independent media to operate in the country. Journalists which publish in independent journals are systematically harassed, imprisoned or forced to leave the country. The authorities arrested and detained independent journalist Sergei Naumov, who had frequently reported on forced labor, for 12 days. Likewise, all international human rights organizations have been shut down.

This year, the Uzbek government has gone to great lengths to threaten and punish Uzbek human rights activists living abroad. In July 2013, Tashkent city criminal court sentenced France based Mrs. Nadejda Atayeva, head of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony. In addition, the National Security Service harassed and intimidated relatives of Mrs. Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). Both are co-writers of this letter.

As can be seen from the Cotton Campaign report, the situation in the cotton fields remains worrying as well: This fall, the Uzbek government coercively mobilized more than a million citizens, including children, to cultivate and pick cotton. The government systematically mobilized children aged 15 to 17 and adults throughout the country, and authorities mobilized even younger children in some places.

Forced child labor was organized through the state education system, under threat of expulsion from school. Public- and private-sector workers were forced to pick cotton under threat of losing their jobs.

Authorities transported students from the schools to the fields in public buses, and students and adults who were deployed to pick cotton far from their homes were housed in schools and other public buildings, often at the expense of the people being forced to pick cotton.

Eleven citizens lost their lives as a result of the forced-labor system this year. The tragic losses included Tursunali Sadikov, a 63-year old farmer who died of a heart attack after being beaten by an official of the Department of Internal Affairs, and Amirbek Rakhmatov, a six-year schoolboy who accompanied his mother to the cotton fields, napped in a trailer, and suffocated when cotton was loaded on top of him.

As the report details, the government took extensive measures to whitewash labor rights violations to create the impression of voluntary work in the cotton fields. Prior to the harvest, the government inserted a clause in contracts for public-sector workers making work in the cotton harvest a condition of employment. School administrators required students and parents to sign commitments at enrollment that students would pick cotton. Throughout the country, authorities instructed children at schools and adults in their workplaces and communities to report to foreigners that they picked cotton “voluntarily” and “for the love of the motherland.” As in previous years, the government silenced Uzbek human rights monitors through arrest, imprisonment and intimidation.

The Uzbek government also took extensive measures to mislead the international community and create the impression that improvements have been made in terms of child labor and forced labor.

Thus, the government builds on its long-standing practice to deny its role orchestrating the forced labor system, claim that new policies are in place, and refuse to end the human rights violations.

The EU should not be deceived by Tashkent’s misrepresentations, while it continues systematic torture, forced labor and harassment of citizens who claim their rights under the law. In recent years, the EU referred to successes in the framework of the EU-Uzbekistan human rights dialogue as well as its establishment of a permanent diplomatic mission in Tashkent, yet the human rights situation has continued to deteriorate.

The Uzbek government has not taken any meaningful steps to improve the human rights situation. It is incumbent on the EU to put forward specific requirements expected from the Uzbek authorities, as we and other human rights organizations have consistently highlighted.
With this letter we ask you as the Special Representative for Central Asia to review the Central Asia strategy. The Uzbek government has not used the time granted to it to undertake substantial reforms.

The human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan began in 2007, and Uzbek citizens have not experienced a substantial improvement in the six years since. The government’s continued and systematic use of forced labor in the cotton fields again demonstrates that the government maintains its position of denial instead of really sincerely pursuing reforms.

The Uzbek government’s disregard for its international human rights commitments can no longer be tolerated by the international community. Thus, we strongly urge the EU to revise the EU-Central Asia Strategy, specifically to: 

  • Set conditions and benchmarks and clearly articulate the specific reform steps. Such steps have already been formulated by EU foreign ministers, in the context of the sanctions process, most recently in October 2010, but are currently not being actively enforced. These human rights criteria, listed below, should form the core standards against which the EU measures its relationship with Tashkent.
  • Engage in sustained and active policy follow-up at all levels to secure compliance with the benchmarks, especially at the highest levels – including in EU member states’ bilateral relations. This entails raising human rights concerns at every opportunity, including publicly, to make clear the central role of the human rights demands in the relationship. 
  • Impose policy consequences if reform expectations are not met. EU member states should set a clear timeline for the government to heed, once and for all, the EU’s human rights criteria or face concrete consequences, including the prospect of renewed restrictions on its relationship. The European Parliament set a positive example in December 2011, rejecting a proposed reduction of EU textile tariffs for Uzbekistan until the government grants access for international monitors for its cotton harvest and takes concrete steps to end forced child labor, introducing much-needed conditionality in the EU-Uzbekistan relationship.
  • Consider instituting targeted restrictive measures, including visa bans on individual Uzbek officials implicated in serious abuses, if progress is not made.

We reiterate that the government of Uzbekistan must immediately:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including imprisoned human rights activists, journalists, and peaceful opposition activists and religious believers;
2. Grant all UN special rapporteurs who have requested access to visit Uzbekistan immediate access to the country, after denying their entry since 2003;
3. Allow Human Rights Watch and other international human rights NGOs to return to the country and to carry out independent monitoring of the human rights situation.
4. Allow freedom of the press, including opening airwaves to Ozodlik radio, BBC, Deutsche Welle and other media agencies;
5. Allow an international independent investigation into the May 2005 Andijan massacre.
6. Stop the forced labor of adults and children in the cotton sector.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights, UGF

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, AHRCA


European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR


In memory of Natalya Gorbanevskaya

In my email contacts list, a "green circle" next to the name of Natalya Gorbanevskaya is no longer illuminated.

Natalya Gorbanevskaya
Natalya Yevgenyevna Gorbanevskaya died on 29 November 2013.

In Wikipedia it says about her: Russian poet, translator, human rights activist, member of the dissident movement in the USSR.

I was introduced to Natalya Yevgenyevna by her son Yaroslav Gorbanevsky, a Russian correspondent of Radio France International service. In 2007, our Association for Human Rights in Central Asia issued a petition for collection of signatures in support of the Uzbek human rights activist Umida Niazova . Everyone who learned this story was shocked that Umida was sent to jail in Uzbekistan using a provocateur and her infant son ended up in Kyrgyzstan. Umida was under a threat of a long-term imprisonment, her son was constantly crying and called for his mother. Soon after this petition was issued, Natalya Gorbanevskaya sent us a short message: "Please put my signature on the petition in defense of Umida Niazova and keep me informed on the news on this case". A few hours later we received the signature of the writer and former political prisoner Vladimir Bukovsky. He explained that he had received the petition from Natalya Gorbanevskaya. Then we received a few more signatures of people who were referred by Natalya Yevgenyevna.

Natalya Yevgenyevna took a very close interest in her story until Umida Niyazova was freed and she was very glad when Umida and her son were reunited.

In February of this year, I sent her another petition "No second Andijan tragedy!". We had some time discussing this topic in the chat online, and then she helped us to collect signatures of dissidents.

Each time, turning to her for support, I knew that I would have to explain the reasons for making the petition and who it was aimed at. She did not always agree with our wording and offerred her constructive criticism. For me personally and for many members of the Board of our Association, Natal Yevgenyevna’s support was very important, her confidence was passed on to us. She knew how to defend a position, and was a person of principle.

I often read Natalia Gorbanevskaya’s blog to learn her opinion about various events. In my library, I have a collections of her poetry, a few of her poems I know by heart.

I will remember her with gratitude. Natalia Yevgenyevna supported us in our work and struggle for the liberation of Uzbek political prisoners. She helped us, the citizens of Uzbekistan, to feel the power of social influence on the regime for which human life has no value.

Natalia Gorbanevskaya lived a difficult and legendary life.

We cherish her memory.