Open letter to Mr. Islam Karimov, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Paris - Geneva, June 30, 2006
Re: Arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and obstacles to freedoms of association and assembly
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would like to express their deep concern at the deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders and their organisations in Uzbekistan.
Indeed, since the tragic events that occurred in Andijan, on May 13, 2005, Uzbek human rights defenders have been facing increasing acts of reprisals, such as ill-treatments, arbitrary arrests and detentions, made-up judicial proceedings, illegal search of their houses, acts of harassment, etc . Moreover, the entry into force of new amendments on the freedom of association strengthen the control of the authorities over civil society.
Arbitrary detentions of and ill-treatments against HRSU members
- Arbitrary detentions of Mr. Azam Formonov and Mr. Alicher Karamatov
First of all, the Observatory is very concerned by the detention of Messrs. Azam Formonov and Alicher Karamatov, head of the offices of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) in, respectively, the Cerdarine region and the Mizaabad district.
On June 15, 2006, Mr. Formonov and Mr. Karamatov were sentenced to a nine-year prison term for “extortion” (article 165 of the Criminal Code). In the beginning of May 2006, Messrs. Formonov and Karamatov had been charged by the Prosecutor of the Djizak district, Mr. Mallaev, on the basis
of a declaration made by Mr. Ouktam Mamatkulov, an important oil exporter in the region of Zaaminsk, who would be involved in an oil traffic that harms the economic interests of the government. In his declaration, Mr. Mamatkulov stated that Messrs. Formonov and Karamatov had forced him to give them 600.000 sums (about 49 euros). Yet, the declaration of Mr. Mallaev occurred after their arrest.
Up to this date, Messrs. Formonv and Karamatov have remained detained at the prison of Khavast City since their arrest on April 29, 2006. They were detained incommunicado for more than one month at the beginning of their detention, and were subjected several times to acts of torture (i.e. they were obliged to wear a gas mask of which the valve of air was closed, or seriously beaten with sticks).
On April 29, 2006, before his arrest, Mr. Formonov, was ordered by the Tax authority to pay a fine of 47.000 sums (about 33 euros) for “tax evasion”. He had been informed on the previous day that he was accused by the Tax authority of Gulistan of breaching some business law provisions, by using materials lent to him by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
On the same day, several police officers came three times to Mr. Formonov’s house in order to seize his computer and print machine. On the first time, the police raided the house while Mrs. Ozoda Yakubova, Mr. Formonov’s wife - who was pregnant at the time - was alone with her daughter. The policemen finally left without taking anything. On a second time, Mr. Tolib Yakubov, HRSU President and Mr. Formonov’s father-in-law, Mr. Mamatkoul Moukhtarov, Head of the HRSU Samarkand district section, and Mr. Bakhtior Khamraev, Head of the HRSU Djizak district section, were present and required a warrant. As the policemen did not have any legal order, they left once again. However, on the third time, the police officers came with around ten men in plain clothes, who seemed to be drunk. One of the police officer hit violently Mrs. Yakubova, who felt on the ground and lost consciousness. Around five or six police officers stepped over her to keep searching the house, and confiscated the computer and the photocopier. Mrs. Yakubova was then brought to the hospital where she stayed during 24 hours.
On May 4, 2006, one of the police officers who raided into Mr. Formonov’s house declared to his and Mr. Karamatov’s relatives that it was “only the beginning” and that “[they] will put all of [them] in jail”.
On the same day, Mr. Mamir Azimov, Head of HRSU office in the district of Djizak, was warned to leave the organisation by a member of the anti-terrorism section of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who had took part in the raid, and who also indicated that the HRSU office in the Cerdarine region had been “destroyed”.
On May 5, 2006, an anonymous article entitled “Human rights defenders or blackmailer” was published in the newspaper Adolat Kuzguzi, accusing Mr. Formonov of embezzling an important grant received from the American embassy, dedicated to the defence of human rights in the district of Cerdarine. Several pictures representing Messrs. Formonov and Karamatov were added, with a reference to the above-mentioned criminal proceedings initiated against them. The author of the article also made reference to the fire that occurred in Mr. Formonov’s house in November 2005, and on which an inquiry is still opened, pretending that Mr. Formonov used this event to call the attention of the international community .
On June 12, 2006, Mrs. Yakubova and Mr. Formonov’s sister were followed by numerous policemen, and more than 10 persons watched their house until the next day.
- Arbitrary arrest of and ill-treatments against Messrs. Uktir and Sharof Pardaev
On March 24, 2006, Messrs. Uktir and Sharof Pardaev, both members of the HRSU branch in Djizak, were arbitrarily arrested and beaten by law-enforcement bodies, though they had been officially brought to the police station as witnesses of another arrest. Thanks to an important mobilisation of the local civil society, they were released after a few hours. Due to serious injuries, Mr. Sharof Pardaev had to be brought to hospital.
- Arbitrary detention of Mr. Yagdar Turlibekov
In the morning of June 16, 2006, in Karshi, about 30 militia men and members of the National Security Services (NSS), some of them with automatic weapons, raided into the house of Mr. Yagdar Turlibekov, Chairman of the Kashkadarinsk regional branch of HRSU. Without any warrant, they searched the house during four hours, and seized some hard disks and documents relating to his human rights activities.
In the afternoon, Mr. Turlibekov was brought to the City Department of Internal Affairs (CDIA), where he would still be detained incommunicado. No charges have been officially pronounced against him.
Mr. Turlibekov had already been detained incommunicado during 15 days in November 2004, and has been under constant surveillance since May 2005.
Arbitrary detention of other human rights defenders
- Arbitrary detention of Messrs. Ilhom and Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov
On May 22, 2006, Mr. Ilhom Zaynabitdinov, son of Mr. Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, president of the human rights organisation Appeliatsia (appeal), was arrested. He would allegedly be detained at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, because of his involvement to pursue his father’s activities in favour of human rights. As regards Mr. Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, he was condemned to seven years in prison on January, 11 2006, in relation with his human rights activities in the aftermath of the Andijan events .
The Observatory is very concerned by the fact that no information has been made public concerning the whereabouts and conditions of detention of the two men, despite a statement of the European Union Presidency dated June 19, 2006, calling the Uzbek authorities to provide these information. No information has been made public since the arrest of Mr. Ilhom Zaynabitdinov.
- Arbitrary detention of Mr. Arabboï Kadirov
On May 24, 2006, Mr. Arabboï Kadirov, Head of the human rights NGO Ezgulik in the Pop district, in the region of Namagan, was arrested at his home, for “suspicion of document falsification”. The police, which had an arrest and search warrant, seized his computer and several documents related to his human rights activities. Mr. Kadirov would reportedly be detained in custody in a police station of the Pop Region.
- Arbitrary detention of Mrs. Mukhtabar Tojibaeva
The Observatory also remains extremely concerned by the arbitrary detention of Mrs. Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, Chairwoman of the Ardent Heart’s club, a human rights organisation based in Margilan, in the Fergana valley.
On March 6, 2006, Mrs. Tojibaeva was sentenced to an eight-year prison term by the court of Dustobod, Urta Chirchik rayon court, in Tashkent oblast, for 17 different charges - mostly economic -, including “slander” (article 139.3 of the Criminal Code) and “membership of an illegal organisation” (article 244). On March 30, 2006, her sentence was confirmed, despite many irregularities during the proceedings. Indeed, since the beginning of her detention in October 2005, Mrs. Tojibaeva has not been allowed to meet her lawyers in private, and several defence witnesses were ordered to leave the Court before giving their statements.
The charges were based on the grounds that the Ardent Hearts’ Club would not be registered under the “Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Liability concerning NGOs”, adopted on December 28, 2005.
Mrs. Tojibaeva would be detained in extremely harsh conditions, which conducted her to write a goodbye letter to her relatives, in which she stated that she would not survive much longer in such conditions. Her daughter was authorised to meet her only once since her arrest. Besides, her son-in-law would have been fired in retaliation of her activities and all his job applications have been rejected since then.
On June 19, 2006, the European Union Presidency called once more the authorities to guarantee the right of Mrs. Tojibaeva to meet her lawyer and relatives and to be provided the necessary health cares.
Obstacles to the freedoms of association and expression
- Obstacles to the freedom of assembly
On May 12, 2006, during a peaceful meeting at the Memorial of Courage, aiming at paying a tribute to the victims of the Andijan massacre, many human rights defenders and political opponents were attacked by officers of the special unit police, when they publicly called for a free and independent inquiry into these tragic events.
In addition, several foreigner press correspondents who were supposed to cover this meeting were violently prevented from doing it. For instance, on May 11, 2006, the correspondent of the French agency France Presse, Mr. Antoine Lambroskini, was beaten up by the police, and then forced to leave the town.
- Closure of the human rights NGO Counterpart International
On May 4, 2006, following a complaint of the Minister of Justice, the Civil Court of Tashkent decided the liquidation of the Uzbek branch of Counterpart International, an international non-profit organisation for human development, on the basis that “it status [did] not correspond to its real activities” and that the organisation failed to pay some taxes. On May 25, 2006, another proceeding would have been opened against this organisation for “publishing documents without a license”. In 2005, the Uzbek branch of Internews Network, an international organisation that protects the freedom of the press and access to information, had also been dismantled .
- New restrictive law on freedom of association
Furthermore, these events take place in a context of an increasing control of the authorities over NGOs activities, in particular since the signature of restrictive amendments on freedom of association in January 2006. This text provides, amongst other things, that the organisation of any meeting or assembly requires the previous authorisation of the competent national authorities, and that the support or funding of “political activities” by an organisation will be sanctioned by a fine. Besides, these amendments also aim at dissuading foreign NGOs from participating in the political situation of the country (article 239 of the Criminal Code), for example by means of any activity led by political parties or “mass movements”. The involvement of a foreign NGO in such activities will be sanctioned by a valuable fine. Furthermore, these new provisions allow for an important growing heaviness of many other fines, sanctioning for example “libel” (multiplication by four of the maximum amount of the fine), “insult” (article 159) or the “dissemination of documents of which the content may be a threat to the public security and order” (article 244.1), etc.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern regarding all these acts of reprisals from the authorities, which aim at further silencing civil society, and urges you to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment against human rights defenders in Uzbekistan, and to conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its article 1, which states that « everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms as the national and international levels », and article 12.2, which provides that « the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration ».
More generally, the Observatory calls upon the Uzbek authorities to comply with international human rights standards and international instruments signed or ratified by the country.
In the hope that you will take these considerations and requests into account,