In recent days, some human rights activists and the media attributed a huge role in the release of a political prisoner, a former deputy of the Parliament of Uzbekistan Murad Djuraev, whom we congratulate on this long-awaited event, to the US Secretary of State John Kerry.
HRSU Ezgulik and journalists of Radio Liberty linked Murad Djuraev’s release from the jail to a visit of the US Secretary of State Mr. Kerry. I had a feeling of great injustice, because the date of his release was known as early as October 2015. An employee of the prison administration told Juraev’s wife to come and collect him on 12 November. However, he set a condition: to keep quiet about it. On a condition of great secrecy, human rights defenders learned about the date of Murat Djuraev’s release a month before the visit of John Kerry. I do not agree with those who called Murad Djuraev’s release a humanitarian act either.
Unfortunately, the former Member of Parliament Murat Djuraev had to spend 21 years in custody serving five terms of imprisonment, four of which were extended on absurd charges: "for pealing carrots not properly", "for wearing the wrong shoes in the barracks where the prisoners' slept” and so on.
It is worth mentioning that the public learned about John Kerry’s visit to the Central Asia only a few days before it actually took place. Moreover, it was announced only after numerous requests of human rights defenders. Uzbekistan has the largest number of political prisoners in the former Soviet region. Systematic defeat of the human rights movement and systemic persecution of independent journalists have been continuing since 2005. Therefore, members of the community of activists remaining free have a well-founded fear of arrests or compulsory treatment in a psychiatric clinic. In these circumstances, a small group of brave men and women continue to monitor human rights, despite the fact that the government officials organise arsons of their homes, frequently invade their private space and restrict their freedom of movement. Since 2004, the work of independent civil society activists in Uzbekistan cannot be legally funded.
Then Mr Kerry visited the country. We all were anticipating that it would give a chance to the release imprisoned civil society activists, that the Secretary of State would certainly raise the issue of accreditation of HRW. We also had no doubt that John Kerry would not leave the human rights activists and journalists without a moral support, that at least one of his assistants would meet with them.
However, Mr Kerry met only with the dictator Karimov behind closed doors. According to official Tashkent, a meeting with civil society activists took place in Samarkand. But who are these activists and what was discussed during this meeting is unknown. Does this mean that Secretary Kerry is now meeting the activists behind closed doors too?
During his visit, Mr Kerry treated Karimov with surprising sentimentality and did not publicly support the community of activists who are persecuted for their work. He did not mention the name of even a single Uzbek political prisoner. Following the meeting, the social networks and the media reported only enthusiastic statements of Mr Kerry about Samarkand and the results of negotiations with Mr Karimov. What has so impressed Secretary of State is unknown. One of the most shameful moments of the visit of John Kerry was when his security personnel pushed an American journalist Carol Morello who asked questions about human rights out of the room. All subsequent apologies of Mr Kerry’s assistants did not matter: we saw how the US Secretary of State, in the presence of the dictator who ordered to shoot his own people in Andijan, allowed to disrespect a reporter of a reputable American newspaper Washington Post.
Since May 2015, on the basis of regular requests of human rights organisations: Amnesty International, ACAT- France, IPHR, HRW, AHRCA, Freedom House, UGF, HRSU Ezgulik and many others, members of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the European Parliament and many diplomats of EU countries and the United States raised the issue before the Uzbek government about the case of Murad Djuraev. (Sorry if I left anyone out.) Monitoring of the case of Murad Djuraev has been constantly carried out for the last 4 years, starting with a visit of then EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to Uzbekistan in 2012. At a meeting with human rights activists, she promised that she would continuously monitor the cases of prisoners: Murad Djuraev, Muhammad Bekjan, Isroil Holdarov, Azam Farmonov and others.
Since then, they received new sentences under Article 221 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan "Disobedience to Legitimate Orders of the Administration of Penal Institutions." However, Ms Ashton did not notice it.
At almost all meetings of the EU in the framework of the Dialogue on Human Rights, the issue of political prisoners was raised. Murad Juraev’s name has always been in this list, because he has broken all records in terms of imprisonment and the severity of conditions of detention.
He held out owing to his wife Holbike Djuraeva, who continued to support him over the years. After her visit to the colony, she would come to her friend Dilorom Iskhakova’s house. When Dilorom asked "How are you?" she broke down into tears and hysteria and they had to call an ambulance to calm her down. I once heard her bitter complaints over the telephone. Dilorom Iskhakov continued to support this family all these years. At the European Union and the United Nations meetings, she tearfully told about the fate of Murat Juraev and asked to save him. Alongside her, Jodgor Obid, Ismail Dadajanov, Muhammad Salikh, Talib Yakubov and Pulat Akhunov kept Murad Djuraev’s case constantly in the public view. Each of them wrote and spoke about him, because they knew him personally.
During these 21 years, Murad Djuraev has become a symbol of civil society. At the meetings within the framework of human rights dialogues, the diplomats mentioned his name with great caution, because the dictator Karimov declared him a personal enemy. The Secretary Kerry also decided not to mention Juraev’s name publicly. It is a shame, because any public mention of political prisoners gives moral support not only to them but also to those who are seeking their freedom.
The Committee for Human Rights, at it the 114th session of July 2015, repeatedly mentioned the names of Murad Djuraev, Muhammad Bekjan, Azam Farmonov, Dilmurad Saiyd, Fakhriddin Tillaev, Nuriddin Dzhumaniyazov and many others. And the members of the Uzbek delegation clearly felt that we all take a great interest in the fate of these people, because they continue to protect the fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms even if they are in prison.
Every day we receive disturbing reports from Uzbekistan about human rights defenders who are risking their lives in order to circulate the information that the Uzbek authorities want to hide from the international community. It is very important that the representatives of the democratic community pay them attention and give a moral support.
Murad Djuraev is already with his family. It will take a long time to restore his health. There are still many political prisoners remaining in custody. Among them, there are disabled, seriously ill and elderly people. Will their fate be discussed in November during the forthcoming dialogue on human rights in the European Union? After all, these dialogues have been held for many years, also without the participation of civil society activists and behind closed doors.
In fact, it is important that the public knows what issues are discussed during these meetings. Citizens of Uzbekistan have the right to know: whether the issue of resuming the mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Uzbekistan on program of visits to persons held in custody will be solved, whether the observations of the Committee against Torture are adhered to, when Uzbekistan will allow UN Special Rapporteurs, whether the restrictions on the supply of all forms of military assistance and sanctions against those involved in crimes against humanity will be imposed.
On 13 November, the US Department of State, in a brief press release, welcomed the release of Murat Juraev. Indeed, this is an important event in the history of the development of civil society in Uzbekistan. It is equally important that there is a US Senator called Benjamin Cardin. He has the time and desire to express his concerns about the fate of Uzbek political prisoners at every opportunity, without looking back at the dictator Islam Karimov.
Nadejda Atayeva,A citizen of Uzbekistan