17.6.21

Uzbekistan: Eighth time lucky?

 

Human Rights House to apply for official registration again

Later in June 2021 Agzam Turgunov, human rights defender and former political prisoner, and his colleagues will submit an application to register their human rights organization for the eighth time since February 2019. The applicants have diligently addressed all concerns raised by the Ministry of Justice and have engaged a lawyer to assist them. Other independent civil society groups have also had multiple applications for registration rejected on spurious grounds.

The government of Uzbekistan publicly claimed in February 2021 that there are over 10,500 civil society organizations in the country, but closer examination of these statistics reveals that the majority of them are in fact organisations that are not independent from the government.

In May 2020 the United Nations Human Rights Committee raised concern at “the small number of independent self-initiated NGOs registered in the State party, the high number of rejections for registration”.

“The authorities of Uzbekistan are clearly dragging their feet and searching for small technicalities to prevent independent human rights organizations from registering. Until such groups are able to register and allowed to monitor and document the human rights situation any talk of reform in Uzbekistan is meaningless,” said Brigitte Dufour, Director of International Partnership for Human Rights.

On 4 March 2021, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev approved the “Concept on Development of Civil Society in 2021-2025” and a Road Map for its implementation, setting out measures to address various issues important to civil society organisations, including the legal framework, partnership with state structures, state support, and civil society oversight of state bodies’ activities. However, the Concept fails to address an issue of central importance for independent civil society groups in Uzbekistan, namely the clarification of procedures and criteria that apply when registering NGOs.

The Ministry of Justice’s grounds for rejecting the applications by Agzam Turgunov and his colleagues were often unclear or unsubstantiated indicating that they were refused on politically motivated grounds. For example, the Ministry stated that the applicants had failed to:

    — Number and stitch the pages of the charter correctly (rejection no. 2 in June 2019, and no. 6 in October 2020. Turgunov and his lawyer refute this and say the charter was presented correctly.

    — Pay a fee for the consideration of the registration documents equivalent to the amount of four minimum wages (rejection no. 2). However, when the founders submitted the documents, the employee of the Ministry of Justice who checked them had told them that everything was in order and assured them that the fee could be paid later and they would be informed in good time.

    — Pay the appropriate fee for registering the organization (rejection no. 3 in August 2019). This time the group paid the fee as advised in the previous rejection, but now the Ministry’s rejection letter pointed out that the fee was higher -12.5 minimum wages – for groups that intend to not only operate within Uzbekistan. There was in fact an error in the Charter as the lawyer’s secretary wrote “in other countries” instead of “in other regions”.

    — State where the group would conduct its activities and name the governing body submitting the application (rejection no. 3). These claims are inaccurate as the documents had been prepared by the lawyer and the Charter referred to NGO branches in four regions of the country.

     — Abide by the Law on non-governmental non-profit organizations1 in connection with the group’s founding meeting, but no details were given (rejection no. 4 in March 2020).

Submit the application in line with online registration procedures in place during the coronavirus pandemic (rejection no. 5 in July 2020). However, details about the procedure were not publicly available and requests by the group for clarification had gone unanswered.

    — Attach the confirmation of payment of the registration fee (rejection no. 6 in October 2020). An employee of the Ministry of Justice had told Turgunov that the receipt of payment was valid for three months and therefore he did not pay a new fee.

    — Meet the requirement of Article 17 “Charter of a non-governmental non-profit organization” of the Law “On non-governmental non-profit organizations”2 which requires NGOs and its sub-divisions to demonstrate the availability of sufficient funds (rejection no. 6). However, the founders of the organization had set up a fund (with donations from founders and supporters) of the amount of an equivalent to 3,000 USD to cover the required costs for two staff and office rent for a year, as required by law.

In the seventh and most recent rejection letter dated 7 January 2021 the Ministry of Justice claimed that Human Rights House had not sufficiently regulated the management of funds by the organization and its sub-divisions, and that it had failed to list its sources of funding. The Ministry’s letter provides no evidence for these conclusions. Agzam Turgunov and lawyer Sergey Mayorov maintain that they provided the requested information in the registration request.

Agzam Turgunov lodged the first three NGO applications under the name “Restoration of Justice” together with further founding members including human rights defenders Dilmurod Saidov, Azam Farmonov and Abdusaid Musayev. After the third refusal to register the group, these founding members left the organization and the others decided to rename the NGO to Human Rights House (or Inson Kukuқlari uyi in Uzbek or Дом прав человека in Russian).

Agzam Turgunov, the head of Human Rights House, and lawyer Sergey Mayorov reported that they met representatives of the Ministry of Justice on several occasions including the Minister of Justice Ruslan Davletov to discuss how to obtain registration.

“Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became President, I have noticed that the State Security Services are still interested in me, and so I asked the Minister of Justice Ruslan Davletov directly if this interest had influenced the decision to refuse to register the NGO. I found it amusing that he tried to dissuade me from registering and strongly recommended that I join the already registered Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan ‘Ezgulik’, saying that then it would be easier for me to protect human rights, which sounds strange when coming from the Minister of Justice”, Agzam Turgunov stated in January 2021.

After the seventh rejection by the Ministry of Justice, Agzam Turgunov has been searching several months for a guarantor willing to provide office premises – which is a prerequisite for registration. The previous guarantor, who provided a letter of guarantee for all the previous applications, stated that the State Security Services urged him to withdraw his support to Turgunov. Additionally, the founders of Human Rights House reported that each of them was visited by an officer from the State Security Services in order to verify the authenticity of their signatures in the application documents. Agzam Turgunov is also preparing documents to appeal the series of refusals to court, as he is afraid that the Ministry of Justice will again refuse to register.

“We see that public organizations are registered in Uzbekistan on a selective basis and that human rights defenders are still under the control of the special services, just like during the reign of dictator Islam Karimov. The lack of opportunities for the legalization of independent human rights organizations makes us question the authentic nature of the legal reforms announced by President Mirziyoyev in 2017”, notes Nadejda Atayeva, President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA).

We call on the Uzbekistani authorities to simplify the registration procedures for independent civil society organizations, to increase the transparency of the process, provide support and advice for citizens trying to register organisations, and welcome a constructively critical dialogue between civil society and the state as a key precondition for achieving meaningful improvement in practice of the human rights situation in the country.

15.6.21

Uzbekistan: NGOs join the UN WGAD in calling for the immediate release of former diplomat Kadyr Yusupov


On 31 May 2021, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD) informed the applicant of its conclusions that the detention of 69-year-old Kadyrjan (further Kadyr) Yusupov is arbitrary. It called on the authorities of Uzbekistan to release him immediately and provide him with adequate compensation.

Concerned about Yusupov’s continued imprisonment, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Freedom Now and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) join these calls and urge the Uzbekistani authorities to ensure their swift implementation.

Former diplomat to Austria, the United Kingdom and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Kadyr Yusupov, who has been imprisoned since December 2018, suffers from serious heart disease and mental illness, and is being held in Prison Colony No. 4 in the city of Navoi in conditions of detention which pose a threat to his health and life.
 
This news gives me great hope to save my father, who needs constant care and attention due to his poor health,” says Babur Yusupov, son of Kadyr Yusupov. “I immediately reported the WGAD decision to his lawyer in Uzbekistan so that he would promptly inform my father, but the prison administration refused him access”.
 
Kadyr Yusupov was sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment in January 2020, after the Military Court of Uzbekistan found him guilty of treason under Article 157 of the Criminal Code in a trial that fell short of international standards of fairness. Yusupov maintains his innocence. The case against him is reportedly based on a statement he made during a psychotic episode in December 2018, when he was being treated by medical personnel following a failed suicide attempt in the Tashkent metro. Whilst in hospital, suffering from concussion and clearly confused, Yusupov reportedly said that he had been a spy for the West.
    
After his arrest on 10 December 2018, Yusupov was held for over a year in pre-trial detention, during which time law enforcement officers subjected him to ill-treatment, including psychological torture and threats of rape and reprisals against him and members of his family. He was not allowed to see a lawyer for over five months, and among other things, authorities withheld necessary medication which he requires for his long-term mental illness. On 5 July 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, requested the Uzbekistani authorities to provide information about the case and to take all necessary interim measures to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence.
    
The conclusion of the UN working group that Yusupov has been arbitrarily detained since December 2018 deserves serious attention and we join its calls to release Yusupov immediately. Our concerns are heightened by the fact that his treatment in detention is alarming and poses a threat to his health and life,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of IPHR.
   
Conditions of detention
 
On 26 April 2020, the Head of Prison Colony No. 4 gathered a group of around 80 prisoners together including Yusupov and asked if they had any complaints. Yusupov replied that the wages for prisoners’ labour at the brick factory were insufficient at the equivalent of under USD 0.15 per day, and that prisoners wishing to observe Ramadan were not allowed to do so. The head of the prison colony then reportedly shouted and swore at Yusupov, saying
   
I am the boss in this ‘zone’ [prison colony], and while I am here, there will be no praying and fasting. I will break you. I have broken others much stronger than you. You will keep your mouth shut, or I will sew it shut”.
   
Shortly afterwards the prison administration moved Yusupov to a punishment cell containing two other prisoners. The next day, he announced a hunger strike. On the third day of his hunger strike, Yusupov was moved to a solitary prison cell 1.5 x 2 meters containing a metal chair, metal bed with a torn, lice-infested mattress and an open toilet. During the day the mattress was taken away from him to prevent him from lying down. The cell was reportedly infested with insects, including small scorpions and snakes and the light was too dim to read by. Yusupov was held in these conditions for 14 days.
     
The prison authorities alleged that Yusupov was placed in solitary confinement because he had broken prison rules. They reportedly put pressure on other prisoners to testify against him and reportedly backdated their report to 26 or 27 April – the date when Yusupov’s punishment began.
     
Upon his release from solitary confinement, Yusupov told his children that his mental and physical health had severely suffered. In October 2020, Yusupov’s request to be relocated to an open prison that allows prisoners to leave the facility during the day and return for the night was denied, on the stated grounds that he has a record of bad behaviour.
      
In February 2021, Kadyr Yusupov was punished for violating prison rules and therefore was again not transferred to a colony-settlement where conditions are better than in Colony No. 4 where he is currently being held. This is a common practice in relation to prisoners investigated by the State Security Service (SSS), which inherited the activities of the National Security Service under the leadership of Rustam Inoyatov, the current Presidential Adviser for the Control of Law Enforcement Agencies.
  
International concern about unfair trial, torture and ill-treatment
   
In January 2020 the UN Committee against Torture stated in its Concluding Observations following the Committee’s review of Uzbekistan’s implementation of the country’s international human rights obligations that
                                     
The case of Kadyr Yusupov illustrates how safeguards were absent leading to inadequate legal defence or lack of access to attorney and relatives.”
  
In addition, the UN Committee requested Uzbekistan to provide, by 6 December 2020, follow-up information on actions taken to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed in December 2018 in relation to Kadyr Yusupov, prosecute the perpetrators and ensure redress. The Uzbekistani government replied merely restating events and failed to provide any details about investigations into the torture allegations.
     
If the Uzbekistani authorities are serious about reform, they should ensure compliance with the absolute prohibition of torture as a number one priority. They must investigate the allegations of torture of Kadyr Yusupov, and all other cases of torture effectively and make the results public,” said Geir Hønneland, Secretary General of the NHC.
    
Geoffrey Robertson, Queen’s Councel (senior barrister) who brought the case to the WGAD on behalf of Yusupov and his family, said:
 
This is a most damning criticism of a country that is pretending to the West that it respects the rule of law but is in reality allowing its secret police and its judges to behave brutally. The conduct of its security police was disgusting as they tried to force a confession from a man recovering from a mental breakdown and then for five months denied him all contact with his family and his lawyer of choice. The judges behaved like legal lickspittles, refusing to investigate the torture to which he had been subjected. On these findings, the prosecutor general should resign as he is clearly guilty of dereliction of duty.”
 
 


4.6.21

Uzbekistan: authorities must investigate allegations of torture against Alexander Trofimov

 

                                 Photo: Galia Trofimova (mother), Alexander Trofimov 

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) are concerned about recent allegations that Alexander Trofimov, 29-year-old father of two, who is registered as disabled, was tortured by police on 6 and 7 May 2021 while being detained at Chilanzar District Police Directorate in the capital city of Tashkent without contact with the outside world. We urge the authorities of Uzbekistan to promptly conduct an effective investigation into these allegations, publish the results and ensure that those reasonably suspected of being responsible are brought to justice.

On 6 May, Trofimov was arrested on suspicion of stealing money from Food Optimal Group in Tashkent (Article 169 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan). He was taken to Chilanzar District Police Directorate in Tashkent City (RUVD – Russian acronym), where his detention was registered at 4:30 am before being transferred to Chilanzar Police Station (GOM-8 – Russian acronym). Trofimov’s mother’s mobile phone records show that her son called her from GOM-8 on 6 May at 6:55 am. She took him food at 8:00 am and saw him in person, he was healthy. At around 9:00 or 10:00 she was present when Trofimov, along with other suspects in the case, was transferred from GOM-8 back to Chilanzar ROVD accompanied by officers of the Chilanzar District Criminal Investigation Directorate. At 00:24 am on 7 May, Trofimov called his mother twice from a cell in the Chilanzar ROVD asking her to bring food and a change of clothes. She took the clothes to the police station, but was not allowed to see her son. Later, she learned that he had already been subjected to torture. 

According to Trofimov, he was subjected to police abuse several times  between 10:00 am on 6 and 11:00 pm on 7 May. In the duty office at Chilanzar District Police Directorate four or five police officers kicked Trofimov, hit him with truncheons and punched him on the head, body and legs. They reportedly then forced him to do the splits,  pressing him to the floor and officers took turns to sit on him,  jump on his back and hit him on the back while his hands were handcuffed. During this beating, Trofimov begged not to be hit on the head, explaining that he had sustained a skull fracture in 2002. Despite this, RUVD officers hit him on the site of the injury. At some point some police officers (Trofimov could not say how many) put a plastic bag over his head and continued beating him. Police allegedly told Trofimov that if he confessed to theft he would be released. They also threatened him with additional violence if he told his lawyer that he had been tortured or ill-treated. 

Two suspects in the same case have confirmed to witnessing Trofimov being tortured while they were also being held in the RUVD, and that they were warned they would be tortured if they did not confess.  

AHRCA and IPHR are additionally concerned at reports that law enforcement officials falsified detention records in order to conceal acts of torture that took place on 6 and 7 May. The detention register of Chilanzar RUVD records the time of Trofimov’s detention as 6 May 2021 at 4:30 am. However, during the remand hearing on 8 May, Chilanzar Criminal Court only referred to the investigation files of the RUVD which state that Trofimov’s detention began on 7 May 2021 at 11.00 pm. Additionally, in a violation of procedural regulations which state that investigating officers cannot fulfill the role of accompanying detainees during transfer – but in this case RUVD officials were present with the suspects continually, in an attempt to prevent them from speaking out. 

Trofimov was not allowed to see a lawyer for the first 48 hours after his arrest, and instead was repeatedly told that he would be released very soon. Reportedly, a RUVD representative also told Trofimov’s mother that he did not need a lawyer as he would be imminently released. It was only on 8 May, shortly before the remand hearing began, that lawyer Hakim Saparov was able to meet with his client. The lawyer took a photo of a large bruise on Tofimov’s leg allegedly sustained as a result of beatings during the interrogation. During the hearing Hakim Saparov told the judge that his client was subjected to torture and requested that a medical forensic examination be carried out. The judge refused to grant this motion.    Only on 10 May was Trofimov transferred to a medical centre for examination. To date, the results of this examination have not been made available to Trofimov's lawyer or relatives. 

On 12 May, Tashkent City Criminal Court turned down Trofimov’s petition against being remanded in custody pending trial. 

Trofimov's mother has sent several complaints to relevant authorities requesting an investigation into the allegations of torture of her son, including to the Prosecutor of Chilanzar District; the Prosecutor of Tashkent City; the Prosecutor General; the President of Uzbekistan; the Ministry of Justice and the Inspectorate of the Main Department of Internal Affairs of Tashkent. A complaint was also sent to the Office of the Ombudsperson for Human Rights. 

At the time of writing, nearly one month after the events, the Uzbekistani authorities have not investigated these serious allegations of torture. 

Since President Mirziyoyev came to power, the authorities of Uzbekistan have taken some steps to address the endemic problem of torture in the country. Legislation was adopted stipulating that evidence obtained under torture is not admissible in court and to improve transparency in the criminal justice system. However, in the case of Aleksander Trofimov judges, prosecutors, and interrogators failed to respect the provisions of Article 26 of the Constitution and Article 17 of the Criminal Procedural Code which forbid torture. The fact that IPHR and AHRCA continue to receive allegations of torture and ill-treatment on a regular basis indicates that sustained change is still to be achieved. 


Recommendations

We urge the Uzbekistani authorities to: 

a) conduct a prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the allegations of torture of Aleksander Trofimov, to publish the findings and to bring anyone suspected of being responsible to justice. 

b) launch an investigation to establish responsibility of officials for failing to ensure that Trofimov has access to all legal safeguards aimed at preventing torture in detention; 

c) ensure that all evidence extracted under torture is excluded from the case against Trofimov; 

d) ensure the implementation in practice of the National Strategy on Human Rights of the Republic of Uzbekistan, according to which the state undertakes to ensure that representatives of state authorities who are involved in torture are brought to account. 

e) swiftly establish a rapid reaction mechanism for cases where there are allegations of torture, involving a 24-hour hotline, independent experts and independent representatives of civil society. 


29.4.21

Miraziz Bazarov charged with libel and at risk of attack from non-state actors


The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) are concerned that the blogger Miraziz Bazarov, an outspoken critic of government policies and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, stands charged with “libel”. On 29 April the court placed him under house arrest with strict limits on his contact with the outside world. The 29-year-old blogger is believed to be at risk of violent attacks by non-state actors.

AHRCA and IPHR reiterate calls on the Uzbekistani authorities to protect Bazarov’s right to freedom of expression and opinion and stop any attempts to prosecute him for exercising these fundamental rights. The groups previously issued similar calls in a joint statement  with Amnesty International, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Justice for Journalists, Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Reporters without Borders published on 28 April 2021. The organisations have urged the authorities to protect Miraziz Bazarov, his mother and his girlfriend, who have received numerous anonymous threats of violence including death threats in recent weeks from non-state actors. Concern for their safety is heightened by the fact that the address where Bazarov has been placed under house arrest has been published online by unknown individuals.

In the evening of 28 April 2021, Tashkent City Police interrogate Miraziz Bazarov while he was being treated for injuries sustained in an attack by unknown men on 28 March 2021 in the Republican Clinical Hospital No.1. In the presence of Bazarov’s lawyer, the investigator questioned the young blogger about issues including content of his social media posts. During the interrogation Bazarov was informed that he was charged with “libel via mass media for selfish or other base motives” under Article 139, part 3g of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, which carries punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment.

On 30 April 2021 the Tashkent City Police Department reported on its website that it had received 28 complaints from citizens about Miraziz Bazarov’s social media posts. One of them was a complaint from several school teachers of school no. 110 in the capital’s Mirabad District stating that Bazarov had “denigrated their honour and dignity” by disseminating information on social media about the professional and personal qualities of teachers at this school. The criminal case for “libel” was opened on the basis of this complaint.

In October 2020 Bazarov had posted a video on TikTok where he had called on parents not to send their children to this school in Tashkent, remembering his own attendance at the school, and stating that the “school is the place were elderly female slaves and losers teach children to be slaves and losers”. The video does not mention any teacher by name and is clearly an expression of Bazarov’s personal opinion.

After Bazarov was discharged from hospital early on 29 April police took him to Tashkent City Police Department. At 11:00 p.m. that day Tashkent’s Mirobad District Court ruled to place him under house arrest. The conditions of his arrest include strict limits on his contact with the outside world. He is not allowed to leave his house except in a  medical emergency; to be in contact with friends, acquaintances or neighbours; to use social media; to engage in any kind of correspondence; and he is allowed to use a land line phone only in exceptional cases to contact his lawyer , the law enforcement agencies and in medical emergency.

Background information:

Miraziz Bazarov’s social media posts have attracted much attention on several occasions in recent months. In 2020 Bazarov criticised the lack of transparency and public control over the use of COVID-19 related loans by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to Uzbekistan, and these posts were widely disseminated on social media. His posts in defense of LGBTI people included criticism of double standards amongst Uzbekistani officials. Many Uzbek traditionalists have issued violent threats including death threats against the blogger.   

Bazarov was physically attacked by masked men on 28 March 2021 as he was walking to his girlfriend’s house in Tashkent. He was admitted to hospital to receive medical treatment for his injuries. He was guarded around the clock. While the authorities claimed this was done to protect his security, we are concerned that their primary aim was to limit his ability to communicate with the outside world and publish social media posts. The first few days after his hospitalization he was not allowed any communication with the outside world. Subsequently, he was permitted limited access to his mother and lawyer, albeit always in the presence of government agents. The guards checked that no one would enter Bazarov’s room with a mobile phone. 

On 28 March the police opened an investigation into attack against Miraziz Bazarov for “intentional bodily injury of moderate severity by a group of people” (Article 105, part 2, para. “i” of the Criminal Code). The case was later requalified as “serious intentional bodily injury by a group of people” (Article 104, part 2, para. ”k”). According to the Tashkent City Police Department, the investigation into the attack is ongoing; it reported that “over 100 individuals have been questioned, 41 172 cars have been examined which may have been used by the perpetrators.” Bazarov’s supporters allege that the investigation is not conducted impartially and effectively. To our knowledge, no one has yet been charged.  

For further information about Miraziz Bazarov, refer to the joint NGO statement Uzbekistan: authorities must end reprisals against blogger Miraziz Bazarov for exercising his right to freedom of expression, issued on 28 April 2021.

   

 

 


27.4.21

Uzbekistan: authorities must end reprisals against blogger Miraziz Bazarov for exercising his right to freedom of expression


Miraziz Bazarov, a blogger from Uzbekistan, is an outspoken critic of government policies and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. In March Bazarov complained on his TikTok and Telegram channels about numerous threats – online, by phone and in person – of violence, including death threats, he received against the backdrop of his work on human rights violations. His mother and girlfriend have also been targeted with threats of violence.

Bazarov was physically attacked by masked men on 28 March 2021 as he was walking to his girlfriend’s house in Tashkent. On that day he was admitted to hospital to receive medical treatment for his injuries, but for several days he had no communication with the outside world. Subsequently, he was permitted limited access to his mother and lawyer, albeit always in the presence of government agents. Mobile phones with internet access continue to be prohibited in his hospital room. While the authorities claim he is provided guards to protect his security, we are concerned that their primary aim is to limit his ability to communicate with the outside world and publish social media posts. There are allegations that Bazarov requires no further medical treatment but it appears that government orders prevent the hospital from discharging him.

The police have opened an investigation into the 28 March attack against him but at the time of writing no one has been charged. The Uzbekistani authorities must effectively investigate the 28 March attack and violent threats against Bazarov, his mother and girlfriend, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The organizations jointly issuing this statement are concerned that the Uzbekistani authorities may be fabricating a case against Bazarov to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. The authorities must protect Bazarov’s right to freedom of expression and stop any attempts to prosecute him for exercising his rights.

Bring to justice perpetrators of the attack on Bazarov and those who issued threats against him.

On 5 March Miraziz Bazarov expressed support for a public statement initiated by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe). The statement was supported by 43 NGOs including the authors of this document, called for the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between adult men, and was published on Instagram.1 Subsequently Bazarov, his mother and his girlfriend received numerous anonymous threats of violence from Uzbekistani traditionalists including death threats, and his own and his mother’s addresses were published online. Between 5 and 28 March Bazarov attempted to file complaints about the threats with law enforcement and other government agencies who, according to him, refused to accept them.2 He had previously received numerous threats connected to his blogging.

In the evening of 28 March, as Bazarov and his girlfriend were walking to her house, three masked men got out of a car parked near the building, one of whom was armed with a baseball bat. The men beat Bazarov severely, causing serious injuries including concussion and a fractured leg. He was subsequently hospitalized and underwent an operation in the Republican Clinical Hospital No.1 where he has been guarded by government agents around the clock.

Police investigators questioned Bazarov on 29 March. Bazarov’s mother was able to visit him briefly for the first time as he came round after the operation on 31 March. After that she and his lawyer, who was engaged on 31 March to represent Bazarov, were not allowed to visit him for a further five days and at the time of writing are only allowed to visit him for some 30 minutes per day and in the presence of government agents. Friends and relatives are not allowed to enter. Guards ensure that Bazarov has no access to mobile phones with internet connection.

On 28 March the Tashkent City Department for Internal Affairs opened a criminal case on the attack on Bazarov for “intentional bodily injury of moderate severity” (Article 105, part 2, paragraph “i” of the Criminal Code), which is punishable by five years’ imprisonment. No one has yet been charged.

Concerns that authorities may be fabricating a case against Miraziz Bazarov

We are concerned that authorities may be attempting to punish Miraziz Bazarov for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, possibly by fabricating a criminal case against him. In 2020 Bazarov criticised the lack of transparency and public control over the use of COVID-19 related loans by the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to Uzbekistan, and these were widely disseminated on social media. His posts in defence of LGBTI people included criticism of double standards amongst Uzbekistani officials. Consensual sexual relations between adult men are a criminal offence in Uzbekistan punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.  

On 6 March Bazarov and hundreds of young fans of Japanese anime cartoons and Korean pop music “K-Pop” gathered in central Tashkent and Bazarov posted a video online calling on the fans to gather on Amir Temur Square every Sunday.3 According to Bazarov’s supporters, these meetings were intended as get-togethers of young people to share their enthusiasm for these cultural genres.

At approximately 3:00 pm on Sunday 28 March, a group approached Amir Temur Square shouting “Allah Akbar!”, presumably expecting to confront a gathering of young fans of K-Pop and Japanese anime cartoons. Bazarov had urged people not to convene on that day as he believed such a meeting could be dangerous for the participants.4 Several sources reported that very few people were on the square when the group arrived and that the group targeted a young couple whom they apparently believed to be LGBT supporters. The woman later alleged in a video message shared on social media that her boyfriend sustained serious injuries, had to be hospitalized and went into a coma. Officers of the National Guard intervened and detained 20 to 25 attackers. On 28 March a criminal case was opened for “hooliganism” (Article 277, part 2 "b") in relation to the attack, but to our knowledge no one has yet been charged.

The day after the attacks, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) press service published a five-minute video, describing Bazarov as a social media activist who had “repeatedly called on persons with a non-traditional sexual orientation to participate in various mass gatherings” and had “repeatedly demonstrated his depraved behavior, deliberate disregard for the rules of behavior in society, spreading demeaning antics that contradict the national culture through social networks”. The MIA commentary accuses Bazarov of acting “under the influence of destructive external forces, as well as various international non-governmental organizations”. Against this backdrop, the MIA video appears to convey that “a group of citizens who regarded (Bazarov’s) calls as an offence to their dignity gathered on Amir Temur Square on 28 March in order to voice their opinion and civic position” and that “excessively emotional citizens and persons with a low level of legal literacy tried to solve the problem themselves“, but it deplores that they did so “disregarding legislation” and causing “public disorder”, which law enforcement officers then had to reinstate.

The MIA commentary does not provide details of the “public disorder” and does not mention that persons were attacked and injured. By using footage depicting Bazarov and young people that was taken earlier in March alongside footage of the homophobic mob on 28 March the MIA video appears to imply that the mob encountered a gathering of pro-LGBTI rights activists under the leadership of Miraziz Bazarov. To our knowledge, Miraziz Bazarov was not present on Amir Temur Square on 28 March.

At the end of March, in the course of the investigation into the attack on Amir Temur Square, law enforcement officials searched Bazarov’s and his mother’s apartments. While no search warrant was presented during the first search, officers handed out a search warrant on 31 March stating that Bazarov had repeatedly called on his followers via social media to meet near the monument to Amir Temur to conduct LGBTI “propaganda” and to call for decriminalisation of consensual sexual relations between adult men. The officials seized documents, cameras, phones and computers.

Police officers have questioned Bazarov’s close supporters on several occasions and have tried to find out more about his network.

The Uzbekistani authorities must stop their reprisals against blogger Miraziz Bazarov for exercising his right to freedom of expression. They must also investigate promptly, effectively and impartially the attack and the threats against him, and identify and prosecute in fair trial proceedings all those believed to be responsible.

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15.3.21

Uzbekistan: Pressure on small business owners protesting unlawful actions by tax authorities

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) are concerned about reports that small business owners in Uzbekistan have been subjected to pressure and intimidation when protesting against the arbitrary collection of additional, large-scale tax payments by tax services. The authorities have failed to take adequate action in response to complaints filed by business owners affected by the actions of the tax services, which have negatively affected their ability and that of their employees to work and gain a living. 

In the last few weeks, several hundred business owners, including many small business owners in different parts of Uzbekistan have reported unannounced withdrawals from their business accounts by the Uzbekistani tax authorities. According to information received by the AHRCA, initial amounts seized by the tax authorities ranged from the equivalent of 3000 USD to  tens of thousands of USD, with even higher sums reported later. The tax authorities have claimed that the withdrawals were made to collect additional, corrected tax payments from the affected business owners because these had allegedly engaged in questionable business transactions not eligible for VAT deductions. However, the withdrawals were executed in an arbitrary fashion, without warning and in violation of the procedural requirements set out by national law. Affected small business owners have reported being left without financial means to pay the salaries of their employees and fulfil contractual obligations to business partners.  

The actions taken by the tax authorities have led to protests among small business owners, who have spoken out against what they perceive as being unfair and unlawful treatment. In particular, on 12, 15 and 16 February 2021, groups of entrepreneurs held protests outside the Tashkent City Tax Service and at the premises of the National Tax Committee, where representatives of the City Prosecutor’s Office were present. The protests continued on 18 and 19 February 2021 as protesters demanded explanations and promises of refunds from state bodies.  As well as physical protests, affected business owners have mobilized online, with over 4000 people having joined Telegram groups on the issue.  Affected small business owners have also filed complaints with the prosecutor and tax authorities, as well as with courts with the aim of clarifying the reason for the withdrawals made by the tax authorities.

According to information received by AHRCA, business owners who have criticized the actions of the tax authorities have been subjected to surveillance and threats by officials from the state security services and have been singled out for unscheduled, invasive inspections by tax and other state bodies in an apparent attempt to get them to cease outspoken criticism on social media.  The website of the tax service reports that inspections were carried out in relation to over 5000 business owners in the period from 15 to 25 February 2021. 

On 22 February 2021, reports emerged that the authorities had threatened some of the protestors with criminal charges for participating in unsanctioned rallies. Under national law, those organizing protests must receive pre-approval by authorities, in violation of international human rights standards and courts often qualify unauthorized rallies as ‘’riots”. Participation in riots is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Article 244 of the Criminal Code, and currently parliament is considering draft legislation that would introduce additional penalties to this article, including for public calls for riots. Against this background, entrepreneurs have taken the threats of criminal prosecution particularly seriously. 

We call on the Uzbekistani authorities, in accordance with their international human rights obligations, to respect the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly of small business owners protesting against the recent actions of the State Tax Service and to ensure that such individuals are not subjected to threats and pressure on this ground. We also call on the authorities to uphold the rule of law in dealings with small business owners and to undertake a swift, effective and transparent investigation into any allegations of unjustified withdrawals of funds from the accounts of such entrepreneurs by tax authorities and ensure that any funds  groundlessly seized are promptly returned, thereby also protecting the right to work and gain one’s living of the affected entrepreneurs and their employees. 

Additional information  regarding irregular tax withdrawals: 

On 12 February 2021, hundreds of business owners  in the capital city Tashkent and the provinces of Uzbekistan discovered that the state tax service had withdrawn funds from their bank accounts, as apparent compensation for additional VAT payments charged to them. 

Only on 15 February 2021 did an official explanation for these withdrawals appear on the website of the State Tax Committee. According to this statement, applicable VAT deductions had been adjusted or cancelled in the case of businesses found to have conducted transactions with ‘’dishonest’’ taxpayers engaged in ‘’questionable’’ financial operations, thus resulting in VAT deductions having been made for ineligible transactions. The statement also said that each case would be ‘’considered individually’’ and that VAT deductions would be restored if affected businesses submit documents confirming the legality of transactions and demonstrating that they had exercised due diligence when choosing business partners. 

The actions of the tax authorities, who immediately withdrew funds for alleged tax reporting/payment errors, were carried out in violation of national law. According to the Tax Code, the tax authorities should first have had to issue a request to the affected business owners to pay additional, individually determined tax amounts and given them time to do so. Only a court can sanction the forceful collection of funds. 

Currently the campaign by tax authorities against small business owners continues and up to now, affected entrepreneurs have not received satisfactory explanations for the actions taken against them. Their attempts to use legal appeals mechanisms to obtain justice have been unsuccessful to date: the complaints they have filed with the tax and prosecutor authorities have yet to be investigated, and courts have failed to investigate the lawfulness of the actions of the State Tax Committee in response to appeals lodged by entrepreneurs. 



5.3.21

Joint statement: Unique opportunity for Uzbekistan to decriminalise same-sex conduct


We, ILGA-Europe and the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the President and government of Uzbekistan, member of the UN Human Rights Council, to decriminalise same-sex conduct between men under the ongoing review of the Criminal Code, with a view to ensuring conformity with the recommendations of the UN treaty bodies.

Since 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has launched many legal reforms and Uzbekistan is now discussing and undertaking reforms to its criminal justice system. This presents a unique opportunity to finally decriminalise same-sex conduct between men in Uzbekistan, in line with international human rights standards and its own Constitution.

However, the draft of the new Criminal Code[1], released for public discussion by the Uzbek Prosecutor General's Office on 22 February 2021, does not remove the provision criminalising consensual same-sex conduct between men. Despite calls from international human rights bodies and civil society, the provision remains in the new version of the Code, moved from Article 120 to Article 154 without changing its substance.

Worryingly, the Article is included in the newly created Chapter V of the Code, entitled: “Crimes against family, children and morality”. No further explanation was given by the Prosecutor General’s Office in the explanatory note to the draft.

We recall that as a party to the international human rights treaties, Uzbekistan is obliged to protect the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family[2]. We also remind that when applying for membership at the UN Human Rights Council, Uzbekistan committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and the adoption of a range of legislative, institutional and administrative measures to fulfil its international obligations in the field of human rights, and pledged to protect, promote and support universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all[3]. Moreover, as an EU GSP+ beneficiary, in accordance with Article 13 of the GSP Regulation[4], Uzbekistan should effectively implement agreed international treaties and cooperate with the relevant monitoring bodies. 

In its communication with the UN treaty bodies, the Uzbekistani government has claimed that criminalisation of same-sex conduct between men reflects Uzbek traditions and religion[5]. However, we reiterate the statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, clearly stating that religious beliefs cannot be used to justify LGBT+[6] rights violations nor be invoked as legitimate ‘justification’ for violence or discrimination against LGBT people, and that the right to freedom of religion protects individuals and not religions as such.[7]

We remind Uzbekistan that attitudes towards LGBT people may vary from country to country, but human rights standards are universal and inalienable. International human rights law is clear: all people, without exception, are entitled to protection of their human rights, including LGBT people. Criminalisation of consensual same-sex conduct violates multiple human rights standards, including those on liberty, fair trial, integrity, privacy, dignity, equality before the law, non-discrimination and the absolute prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. These human rights standards are enshrined in legally binding treaties ratified by Uzbekistan as acknowledged in its voluntary pledges and commitments pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/251[8].

Repealing the provision criminalising same-sex conduct or relation and other laws used to persecute LGBT people is an important step for Uzbekistan, member of the UN Human Rights Council, towards combating prejudice and protecting lives of LGBT people under international human rights law and its own Constitution.

Background

Although the Uzbekistani Constitution guarantees privacy, equality and non-discrimination, Uzbekistan is one of the only two Central Asian countries that retain legislation criminalising private, consensual same-sex conduct between men. Article 120 of the Criminal Code[9]  in force stipulates that “bezakalbazlyk” (sodomy), voluntary sexual intercourse between two male individuals, is punishable by one to three years of restricted liberty, or by up to three years of imprisonment. Due to the widespread failure to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity by state and non-state actors in Uzbekistan, this law negatively impacts all of the LGBT community.

As a consequence of criminalising same-sex conduct between men, LGBT people are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, persecution and surveillance by state and non-state actors[10]. It should be noted that non-state actors feel emboldened to attack LGBT people merely due to the existence of Article 120, knowing that the victims will not seek state protection out of fear of being persecuted for their sexual orientation[11].  

Due to the Article 120 in the Criminal Code, and widely practiced bans on associations and peaceful demonstrations, as well as public stigmatisation of LGBT people, activists cannot apply for and register civil society organisations advocating for human rights of LGBT people in Uzbekistan.

Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights - Russia


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[1] Draft of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 154, Available at: https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/d/29646
[2] The United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights accessible on https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
[3] Annex to the letter dated 30 September 2019 from the Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly. Candidature of Uzbekistan to the Human Rights Council, 2021– 2023. Available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/74/477
[4] Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 applying a scheme of generalised tariff preferences and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 732/2008. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=celex:32012R0978
[5] UN Committee against Torture (CAT), List of issues in relation to the fifth periodic report of Uzbekistan. Replies of Uzbekistan to the list of issues, 20 September 2019, CAT/C/UZB/Q/5/Add.1
[6] LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons.
[7] UNOHCHR (2 March 2020), “States should not use religious beliefs to justify women and LGBT+ rights violations – UN expert”, accessible on https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25644&LangID=E
[8] See 3.
[9] Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Article 120, Available at: http://www.legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/1712/file/a45cbf3cc66c17f04420786aa164.htm/preview