22.2.17

Uzbekistan: Newspaper editor freed after being held for 18 years

On the photo: first minutes after release. Muhsmmad Bekjanov is speaking on the phone with his relatives. Muhammad Bekjanov (left) and his brother Jumanazar Bekjanov
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Freedom House, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) are extremely relieved to learn that Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov, the winner of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in 2013, was released today after 18 years in prison.

The onetime editor of what was Uzbekistan’s leading opposition newspaper, Bekjanov was one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists. Now aged 62, he was repeatedly tortured following his arrest in 1999 and his sentence was extended just before he was due to be released in 2012. According to initial information, he will not be allowed to leave the country for one year, which means he would not be able to join his US-based family during this period.

“We are delighted and relieved that Muhammad Bekjanov has been freed,” said the signatories. “It is tragic and deeply unjust that he spent so much time in prison just for doing his job. His release will not be complete until he is allowed to join his family in the United States.”

“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all other journalists and human rights activists who are unjustly imprisoned in Uzbekistan. Many of them have serious health problems. We are especially concerned about Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a colleague arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, as we have had no news of him for a long time.”

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to initiate a debate on such taboo subjects as the state of the economy, the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Karimov in the December 1991 election.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence outspoken critics by prosecuting them as accomplices to the attacks. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried in this way and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was arbitrarily given an additional sentence of four years and eight months in prison in February 2012, just a few days before he was due to be released.

Bekjanov has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment in prison and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time. In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. A few political prisoners including human rights defender Bobomurod Razzakov and politician Samandar Kukanov have been freed since Karimov’s death in August 2016. But many other journalists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and civil society representatives continue to languish in prison.



16.1.17

A citizen of Uzbekistan disappeared in the Crimea

Family of an Uzbek citizen, Murat Karimov, says that they no longer knows where he is.

Since January 2010, Murat Karimov has been living in Ukraine. On 29 December 2016, at 17:30, he called a friend in Kiev and said that he is crossing the border to get from the Crimea to Kiev. He promised to call back after he left the Crimea, but since then his whereabouts is unknown.

For about seven years, in the Crimea Mr. Karimov has been waiting for the UNHCR decision giving him a refugee status. After the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Centre for Refugees told him that his documents were lost due to force majeure and he has been for a long time looking for the opportunity to get into the jurisdiction of Ukraine. He vainly asked UNHCR to help him move to Ukraine.
Murat Nigmatovich KARIMOV was born on 13 July 1957, in Kokand, Ferghana region of the Uzbek SSR, he is Uzbek and has secondary education, he is married.
The authorities accuse him of involvement in Wahhabism (a religious movement banned in Uzbekistan). Previously, he was convicted. He was arrested in 2001 and convicted in 2002 by the Fergana Regional Court under Articles 159 (Attempts to Constitutional Order of Republic of Uzbekistan), 244-1 (Production and Dissemination of Materials Containing Threat to Public Security and Public Order), 244-2 (Establishment, Direction of or Participation in Religious Extremist, Separatist, Fundamentalist or Other Banned Organisations) and 276 (Illegal Production, Purchase, Storage, and Other Activities with Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances without Purpose of Sale) of the Criminal Code the Republic of Uzbekistan. He was sentenced to 12.6 years of imprisonment with serving his sentence in a high security penal colony. Murat Karimov was released in 2004 under an amnesty. Soon re-arrests of everyone who had been released began, and many were forced either to live in Uzbekistan hiding their whereabouts, or to leave for neighbouring countries. And as soon as Murat Karimov felt the threat of being arrested again, he decided to leave the country. In January 2010, he left Uzbekistan hiding his location from the Uzbek authorities.
In the autumn of 2016 in the presence of officers of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan home where Murat Karimov and his family lived was searched. They did not show their identity documents, but verbally presented themselves explaining the actions of the police officers as executing the in absentia judgment against Murat Karimov. However, his family could not find out whether there was the in absentia trial, and if so, what penalty was imposed against Mr. Karimov. Since then, the family had been subjected to pervasive harassment of the law-enforcement bodies, who extorted from all members of the family testimonies against Murat Karimov. And when they faced a threat of arrest, 10 members of his family left the country.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA urges the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearances to use the powers under their mandate to establish the whereabouts of the Uzbek citizen Murat Karimov, who is presumed arrested by Russia's de facto authorities in Crimea at the request of Uzbekistan, because he is in the wanted list of Uzbekistan.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA calls on the government of the countries in whose jurisdiction the citizen of Uzbekistan Murat Karimov currently is to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, including obligations under international agreements in the field of human rights, in particular:
 Protection against torture and other cruel treatment, as well as respect for human dignity;
 Respect for the principle of presumption of innocence;
 Ensuring freedom of religion, worship, rituals and etc.




16.12.16

Uzbekistan: Concern Mounts for Long-Imprisoned Journalist Moved into Solitary Confinement



Prison authorities in Uzbekistan have placed Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists, in solitary confinement, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) said today.

Bekjanov, 62, has been in prison for 17 years, and the move could be a sign that the government is preparing to extend his prison term yet again. He is in very poor health and his condition could decline rapidly in solitary confinement, the groups said. The Uzbek government and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev should ensure his immediate and unconditional release.

Muhammad Bekjanov’s solitary confinement is an ominous sign that causes us to fear that his health could deteriorate and that his sentence could be extended again,” said Nadejda Atayeva, the head of the AHRCA. “The international community must do everything in its power to save him.”

The onetime editor of what was Uzbekistan’s leading opposition newspaper, Bekjanov has been imprisoned since 1999. He was awarded Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Prize in 2013.

He is being held in Prison No. 48, in Zarafshon, in the central Navoiy region. When his brother, Jumanazar Bekjanov, tried to visit him there on December 13, 2016, prison officials said he was in solitary confinement and would not be able to receive a visitor until January 10, 2017. No one at the prison would say how long he had been in solitary or why he was being held there.

The sentences of political prisoners are often arbitrarily extended in Uzbekistan on the ground that they allegedly violated article 221 of the criminal code by “refusing to comply with the prison administration’s legal requirements.” These additional sentences are typically imposed on the basis of false testimony and without due process. Prisoners can be given successive sentence extensions that in practice amount to life in prison.

Bekjanov, who has a wife and three children, has already been a victim of this practice. He was given an additional sentence of four years and eight months in February 2012, just days before he was due to be released.

The Uzbek authorities have already stolen Muhammad Bekjanov’s health and 17 years of his life,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “How much more time will they continue to persecute this journalist, whose only crime was to have done his job in an honest and courageous manner?”

The groups also noted that an amnesty passed by the Uzbek senate on October 12 applies to prisoners over the age of 60 and should therefore be applicable to Bekjanov, who ought to be freed without delay. However, political prisoners have usually been excluded from the amnesties that have been issued in recent years.

“The immediate release of Muhammad Bekjanov and others imprisoned for the exercise of freedom of speech, would be a positive sign by the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, that he is looking to pursue reform and reverse Uzbekistan’s terrible human rights record,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It would show that Uzbekistan’s new leader is willing to end impunity for the abuses committed during Islam Karimov’s long reign,” added Brigitte Dufour, director of IPHR.

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to initiate a debate on such taboo subjects as the state of the economy, the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Karimov in the December 1991 election.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence outspoken critics by prosecuting them as accomplices to the attacks. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried in this way and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a fellow Erk journalist who was arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, is also still in jail.

Bekjanov has been repeatedly tortured in prison. He has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time.

In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks. He has refused to undergo an operation because operations in prison are usually carried out with no anaesthetic and little hygiene.

After repeatedly refusing to allow the lawyer appointed by his family, Polina Braunerg, to see Bekjanov, the prison authorities finally told her earlier this year that she needed to show a letter from him requesting her visit. But this is impossible because he does not know that she is acting as his defence lawyer.

Braunerg is herself now being harassed by the authorities. She has been constantly followed for the past two years or so, and has not been allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. At least nine other journalists are currently jailed in Uzbekistan connection with their work. Many opposition politicians, human rights defenders and other civil society representatives languish in prison, along with thousands of people arbitrarily accused of “religious extremism.”

Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan from independence until his death in August, was succeeded by former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev after an election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said was “devoid of genuine competition.”





29.11.16

Assets acquired by the ruling elite in Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in telecommunications sector should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption:

PRESS-RELEASE


29 November, 2016                                           Le  Mans, Berlin, Memphis 


OPEN LETTER OF UZBEK ACTIVISTS TO THE GOVERNMENTS OF BELGIUM, IRELAND, LUXEMBOURG, THE NETHERLANDS, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A group of Uzbek activists, including Nadejda  Atayeva, Umida Niyazova, Sanjar Umarov, Yodgor Obid, Alisher Taksanov, Ismail Dadadjanov, Dovudkhon Nazarov, Alisher Abidov, Mirrakhmat Muminov, Dmitry Tikhonov and Ulugbek Khaydarov, have called upon the governments of the USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg to support the case filed by the US Department of Justice to forfeiture $850 million, amassed by the ruling elite of Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in the telecommunications sector. Activists urge the governments not to return the assets to the Government of Uzbekistan, which is responsible for the offense, and to use these funds to redress for the victims of corruption, i.e. the people of Uzbekistan. An example of such fair repatriation of ill-gotten assets is the Bota Fund in Kazakhstan created out of “Kazakhgate” assets. If the Uzbek government doesn’t agree to create conditions for such a fund, these assets must be frozen into a trust accountable to the aforementioned governments and the civil society of Uzbekistan.

The full-text letter signed by activists is below and can be downloaded here. This letter should be considered only as a starting point – everyone, who wants Uzbekistan to embark on the path of reforms and become a country free of corruption, is invited to join and sign this letter. The collection of signatures is going on here.

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29 November, 2016                                                                                   Le Mans, Berlin, Memphis  


Assets acquired by the ruling elite of Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in its telecommunications sector should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption

OPEN LETTER OF UZBEK ACTIVISTS TO THE GOVERNMENTS OF BELGIUM, IRELAND, LUXEMBOURG, THE NETHERLANDS, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


We, the undersigned citizens of Uzbekistan, are writing to express our hope that the cases filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (No 1:15-cv-05063 of June 29, 2015 and No 1:16-cv-01257-UA of February 19, 2016), to forfeit the assets in the total amount of $850 million resulting from corrupt dealings in the telecommunications sector in Uzbekistan will succeed and the European states in whose banks these assets are frozen -- Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland -- will support these cases and take decision in the interests of the victims of corruption. While we have been forced to flee our homeland because of the risk of repression by the Karimov regime, we continue to participate in the public life of our country from exile.

We call on you not to return these assets to the government of Uzbekistan at this time because the government of Uzbekistan fails to address the issues of systemic corruption that is endemic to this government and fatally undermines the independence and integrity of the executive, legislature and judiciary.  After the death of Karimov, government authorities promised to reform the judicial system and adopt anti-corruption legislation, yet there is no reason to believe that the government will end the corruption that keeps it in power. Even during the reign of Karimov, the government adopted many good laws and signed and ratified a number of international conventions on human rights and against corruption. But in practice, the government has not implemented any of its laws or fulfilled its international obligations.

We believe that the proceeds from corruption should be used as redress for the people of Uzbekistan, truly the victims of state organized corruption.  Given the unlikeliness that the Uzbek government would agree to allow really independent disbursement of these funds in the near future, we call for the freezing of these assets into a transparent trust fund under international auspices accountable to key stakeholders, including civil society.

1. We are against the return of the assets to the government of Uzbekistan, which is among the most corrupt and repressive in the world.  In the annex you’ll find the summary describing the governance system and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan in support of this point. 

2. We also call on you to create a mechanism whereby the aforementioned assets can be used for the benefit of the people from whom they were stolen— the citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The loss they have suffered as a result of corruption should be compensated.

The amount subject to confiscation is significant, and would comprise a minimum 7% of the annual budget of the country. We propose to use the assets in question for the following purposes:

1) Fund for Compensation for Victims of Torture. We can and must consider those who have suffered torture as victims of political and state corruption, since torture serves the authoritarian rulers as a means to shield their shady dealings from public scrutiny and control. Torture is often used against those who criticize government corruption. Torture is also the most odious manifestation of the lawlessness and corruption in the judicial system of the country. We ask that a fund be created to assist torture victims, both those who remain in Uzbekistan as well as those forced to flee the country. Criteria for identifying torture victims can be taken from the published materials of human rights organizations, the UN Human Rights Committee and Committee Against Torture, the UN special procedures, as well as the materials used by the UN High Commission for Refugees and immigration authorities for evaluating asylum claims.

2) Educational and Health Care Programs for the most vulnerable social groups.

3) Economic Assistance Programs for impoverished groups such as micro-lending, infrastructure development, and small business services.

4) The creation of Corruption Prevention Mechanisms in Uzbekistan, that would promote transparency in government finance; reform the judicial system and law enforcement authorities; strengthen the independent legal profession; and establish effective anti-corruption bodies.

The main condition for implementing the charitable programs described above should be the non-interference by the Uzbek government in their administration.

A precedent for this already exists—the Bota Fund, established by a three-party agreement between the governments of the United States, Switzerland, and Kazakhstan, signed in 2007, and funded by assets from Kazakhgate” ($84 million paid to the president of Kazakhstan by a foreign company and seized from Swiss bank accounts). As you know, the fund supported programs to benefit impoverished children and its activities were accountable to its founders, as well as representatives of civil society and the World Bank.

The Bota Fund, in our view, serves as a successful example of the return of ill-gotten gains to benefit the victims of corruption without returning them to the government implicated in bribe taking. The fact that the fund was established with the participation of the government of Kazakhstan but without that government interfering or pressurising the Fund’s operations played a key role in its ultimate success. We hope very much that the government of Uzbekistan will agree to similar conditions for asset repatriation.

The charitable programs we proposed above should be accountable to the governments to which this letter is addressed, namely the governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden,  Switzerland and the United States of America, as well as to the representatives of civil society.

At the same time, we understand that even by comparison with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan presents an extremely unfavorable and difficult partner for implementing charitable projects like those carried out by the Bota Fund.

There are four main reasons for this:

1) If the Bota Fund implemented programs through allocating grants to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that could provide assistance to the population, in Uzbekistan a functioning civil society as such does not exist. The majority of independent NGOs were destroyed between 2004-2007. For the most part, the organizations that are left are completely under the control of the government and their participation in a compensation and assistance project would violate the key principle of noninterference by the government.

2) The lack of freedom of expression, press, and association render effective independent monitoring of the activities of charitable projects impossible. The intolerance of, and harsh measures against independent observers would undermine the principles of transparency and accountability of a charitable fund, should one be established in Uzbekistan.

3) As noted above, during the period from 2004 to 2007, the government of Uzbekistan forced a range of international organizations out of the country, including Freedom House, The Eurasia Foundation, The Open Society Institute, and others. Human Rights Watch was also forced to close its office in 2011. The presence of these organizations in the country is vital for independent monitoring as well as for their support of domestic civil society. In other words, the successful implementation of the programs outlined above requires a favorable institutional and social operating environment.

4) Uzbekistan prohibits free currency exchange. Four different exchange rates exist. There is a significant difference between the official rate and the black market rate, which allows the government to manipulate this difference. Even if the government allows a charitable foundation to operate, it would first have to convert its funds into local currency at the low official rate, meaning the foundation would lose up to 50% of the value in the exchange.

While we acknowledge that a compromise with the Uzbek government regarding the creation of a charitable fund in Uzbekistan is necessary, we support such a compromise only in so far as it would include terms that would:
  • Remove or significantly reduce the barriers for freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association
  • Liberalize currency conversion policy in order to preserve the whole value of the assets for charitable programs.
  • Allow international nongovernmental organizations, especially those specializing in human rights and the fight against corruption to operate and receive accreditation in Uzbekistan.

3. Considering that the government of Uzbekistan is unlikely to agree to these conditions in the near future, the full amount of the assets or the majority should be held in a trust that is transparent and accountable to key stakeholders, including the governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA, as well as the Uzbek civil societyю. Such a trust could be established under the auspices of an international organization with the appropriate mandate, experience, expertise, and impeccable reputation. The trust’s assets could be fully unfrozen when Uzbekistan develops the appropriate conditions for using these funds to benefit all citizens and it’ll demonstrate political will to accept the Bota Fund like solution. 

The governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America should act in interests of Uzbek victims of corruption. Doing so will also protect western businesses from falling into a trap of shadowy deals with corrupt Uzbek officials – and subsequently facing multi-million penalties for bribery and misleading  their shareholders.

Sincerely,
Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, resident of France, n.atayeva@gmail.com (contact person)
Umida Niyazova, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, resident of Germany, umida.niyazova@gmail.com  (contact person)
Sanjar Umarov, former political prisoner, US resident
Jodgor Obid, former political prisoner, poet, member of the International Pen-Club (Austria), resident of Austria
Alisher Taksanov, journalist, resident of Switzerland
Ismail Dadajanov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan, resident of Sweden
Dovudhon Nazarov, resident of Sweden
Alisher Abidov, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, resident of Norway
Mirrahmat Muminov, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, US resident
Dmitry Tikhonov, resident of France
Ulughbek Haydarov, former political prisoner, resident of Canada



ANNEX:   SUMMARY OF THE GOVERNANCE SYSTEM OF UZBEKISTAN AND THE STATUS OF ITS HUMAN RIGHTS

Corruption is systemic and systematic in Uzbekistan. In recent years, Uzbekistan’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has not risen above 153 of 168 countries. Corruption starts at the very top, as evidenced by the scheme to extract at least $850 million from telecommunications companies organized by Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the former president.

This corrupt scheme has revealed the depressing reality in the Uzbekistan’s communications sector, including the complete lack of an open and transparent tendering process, which leads to the practice of issuing licenses in backroom deals. The state agency responsible for regulating the sector thus issued licenses to offshore companies with no experience running a business, with no reputation or even a staff, and allowed them to resell the licenses to international mobile operators in violation of Uzbek law. Since the corruption scandal of 2012-2014, the situation has not changed. Only Gulnara Karimova’s associates, who played rather a technical role in her corrupt schemes and under whose names the offshore companies were held, have faced prosecution, thus being held as scapegoats, while state officials who made decisions that lead to corrupt practices have walked away with impunity.

The situation has not changed under the new authorities. Untill now, licenses and frequencies allocation are still being allocated behind the scenes, beyond the law.

Furthermore, after the death of Karimov, the former chairperson of the National Agency for Telecommunications (now the Ministry of Development of Information Technologies and Communications) Abdulla Aripov, who personally authorized the allocation of licenses under the corrupt scheme and was discharged afterwards from his office, has evaded justice, and has now been restored to government posts.

Grand corruption in Uzbekistan is not limited to the telecommunications sector. It permeates other sectors of the economy too, especially the cotton sector, construction, trade and the sphere of currency exchange. Among the most corrupt government institutions are tax authorities, customs, judiciary, prosecutors’ offices, police and National Security Service.

The sphere of public finance as whole is completely non-transparent. Even parliament does not know the amount of revenue from major state-controlled exports including cotton, non-ferrous and precious metals, gas, and chemical products. Even more importantly, citizens do not know how these revenues are allocated. Insiders report that these revenues go not to the state budget but to extra budgetary accounts in the Central Bank that are controlled by President and a small circle surrounding him.

The systematic nature of corruption is also apparent in the country’s nascent private sector. Without an impartial judiciary and a transparent legal system, the business people can only operate either through clannish connections to government officials or by providing bribes to these officials.

The human rights situation is appalling, which is an integral part of the political and economic corruption in the country. According to all evidence, including the State Department’s human rights reports and information reviewed by the European Unions’ External Action Service, police routinely arrest people on false charges such as drug possession, tax evasion, and other serious offenses. In some instances these fabricated cases are politically motivated; in others, corruption motivated, when criminal prosecution is used as a means of extortion. Law enforcement authorities use intimidation, torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, to extract from detainees false confessions and statements incriminating others.

Based on personal experience and information from our colleagues, we can testify that torture has long been a routine practice by authorities in law enforcement structures and the prison system in Uzbekistan. The only representative of the UN Human Rights Council ever to have been able to visit Uzbekistan is UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment  Theo van Boven who, after his visit to the country in 2002, concluded that torture and other forms of cruel treatment in Uzbekistan are systematic. Since van Boven’s visit, no other UN special procedures on human rights have received an invitation to visit the country. In 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, “stressed that he continued to receive serious allegations of torture by Uzbek law enforcement officials”.

Uzbekistan has perhaps the largest state-sponsored forced labor system in the world. It systematically violates national law and conventions of the International Labour Organization that Uzbekistan has signed and ratified and which prohibit forced labor. Every year more than a million citizens are forced against their will and under menace of penalty to harvest cotton every year. This year, the US Department of State lowered Uzbekistan’s ranking in the annual Trafficking in Persons report to Tier 3, the lowest ranking for its persistent use of mass forced labor of adults in the cotton harvest.[1]  The situation hasn’t changed after the death of Karimov. As under the previous regime, Uzbekistan continues to be the country of labor slavery and complete disregard of its own and international laws on human rights.

The government systematically violates civil rights and freedoms, including the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. As under Islam Karimov, the real separation of powers is still non-existent, with all the power concentrated in the hands of an authoritarian ruler and his inner circle. The parliament acts as window dressing, rubber stamping legislation and decisions that are prepared by the presidential administration or the Cabinet of Ministers. Although judges are de jure independent, de facto they are subordinate to the executive branch, especially the heads of local administrations, the police, security services, and prosecutorial authorities, unconditionally carrying out whatever is dictated by the heads of these structures.

The defense bar is under the complete control of the government as represented by the Ministry of Justice and is not able to act on an equal footing with the prosecutor's office in the judicial process in order to protect the rights of defendants.

Intimidation of lawyers is frequent, particularly if they take up sensitive cases or cases that implicate the executive branch. As a result, lawyers refuse such cases or face the threat of losing their licenses. A number of lawyers are denied the right to leave the country, they are forbidden to speak at conferences without the Justice Ministry’s permission.

The judicial process is completely non-transparent. Neither law nor practice allows the open publication of indictments, verdicts, or other court material. Therefore society, as a rule, does not know why someone is sentenced, what are the arguments of prosecutor and defense. Judges ignore allegations of torture made by defendants and don’t proceed with respective medical examination. The court hearings on criminal cases are often held behind closed doors, with no access provided for the public and the press, especially if these are politically motivated cases.

Violations of human rights are closely linked with corrupt practices by government bodies. The police often arrest people and judges sentence them to prison to extort bribes. Just one recent example is the case of the arrest and fabricated case against the Ibodov brothers, entrepreneurs from the Bukhara region. The real reason for their arrest was the refusal by the brothers to pay bribes to law enforcement officials. One of the brothers, Rahim Ibodov, received a sentence of eight years in prison. The other, Ilhom Ibodov, died as a result of torture. The court ignored Rahim Ibodov’s allegations that he and his brother were severely tortured. The authorities refused to investigate the allegations and, in doing so, became accomplices in this crime.[2] 

The authorities also imprison and torture those who attempt to expose the government’s abuse of power. The journalist and human rights defender Dimurod Said, who exposed corruption in the Jambai district of the Samarkand region, was sentenced in 2009 to 12.5 years in prison, where he has contracted tuberculosis as a result of terrible conditions of detention.[3]

More than 30 civil society activists and journalists and thousands of practicing Muslims are behind bars on politically-motivated charges. Some of them will not be released alive or will be released with their health destroyed from torture and ill-treatment in prison.

Given this state of affairs, returning the proceeds of corrupt dealings by senior Uzbek officials to the government of Uzbekistan would be tantamount to returning it to the same people who stole it or are implicated in its theft.

It is guaranteed that any amount returned to the government of Uzbekistan would disappear into extra-budgetary and non-transparent accounts at the disposal of the ruling elite with no accountability to the public. It is also extremely likely that some of the funds would be used to strengthen the repressive apparatus, for covert operations against dissidents and critics of the abuse of power, including by paying criminals to carry out political assassinations of dissidents located outside the country.

One example of this practice of hiring criminals by the Uzbek security services was the attempted assassination in Sweden of the Uzbek refugee, and well-known imam Obidkhon Nazarov in 2012; [4] another such case is the murder of the journalist Alisher Saipov in 2007.[5]

Though President Karimov recently died, there is no reason to believe that his corruptly cultivated network of government officials responsible for keeping him in power for so long plan to operate any differently.

Despite the rhetoric heard from the new authorities that target the abuse of public office, we see all the same practice of violating the rights of citizens, that include the continuing practice of forced labor, arrests and beatings in custody of human rights defenders and journalists.

The return of the assets to the government of Uzbekistan would act against the interests of victims of corruption and encourage new criminal practice.  Such a turn of events would be greatly demoralizing to Uzbek society and also negatively affect the reputation of the governments in the US and Europe, who are declaring support to human rights and the fight against corruption. The entire world, including the people of Uzbekistan, closely watches the actions of these governments in these matters.

There are no adequate conditions for independent monitoring. There are a number of cases when Uzbek activists tried to carry out monitoring on various issues, for example of forced labor. These activists suffered serious reprisals from the government in retaliation for their activities, for example, human rights activist Uktam Pardaev was convicted on spurious criminal charges,[6] while Dmitrii Tikhonov, another activist, was beaten by police and had his home destroyed by arson,[7] which was evidently a response from the Uzbek authorities to their activity on monitoring the practice of forced labor.















28.11.16

Uzbekistan: Investigate Death in Custody, Torture

Brothers Opposed Extortion, Threatened to Expose Corruption


Ibodov brothers: Rahim (left), Ilhom (right)
(Paris, November 28, 2016) – Uzbek authorities should ensure a thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into the alleged torture of two brothers by the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), and the death in custody of one of them, Human Rights Watch, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Freedom House, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said today.

Ilhom Ibodov, who died in a National Security Service detention facility in Bukhara in September 2015, was allegedly tortured before he died, as was his brother, Rahim Ibodov, who is currently serving an eight-year sentence. Both men, who had refused to comply with extortion demands and had threatened to expose alleged corruption by security service, were arrested for “administrative violations” and later charged with bogus tax and other commercial offences.

“The death of Ilhom Ibodov in custody, and the serious allegations of ill-treatment that preceded it, underscore the brutal reality of Uzbekistan’s torture problem,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ibodov’s arrest, torture and death mock the government’s claims that it is seriously tackling the problems of torture and corruption alike.”

Ibodov, an entrepreneur from the western city of Bukhara, died on September 13, 2015, in security service custody after he threatened to expose an alleged corruption scheme within the agency and was charged with bogus commercial fraud offenses. The SNB is widely regarded as the most powerful and most feared institution in Uzbekistan. Ibodov’s relatives provided the human rights groups with a credible account by witnesses and photographs of his body, which a forensic expert concluded corroborate allegations that Ibodov was tortured. The relatives said that one scheme involved the alleged fraudulent acquisition of land by one of the arresting security service officers.

Evidence surrounding Ibodov’s death, including his alleged torture, emerged from an investigation by his relatives. As part of their inquiries, they sought the opinion of an independent medical expert, who examined photographs of Ibodov’s body taken after the security service returned it to them for burial. The expert concluded that the photographs indicated injuries consistent with blunt force trauma and other wounds that could have resulted from torture.

Rahim Ibodov provided a detailed account to relatives of the men’s treatment in custody. He said that officials at a security service detention center where they were first held told the men’s cellmates to beat them, and that the brothers were severely beaten repeatedly for the 25 days they spent there. The brothers were then moved to another security service facility, where, Rahim Ibodov said, three of the officers who had demanded bribes, beat his brother to death.
Relatives told the rights groups that authorities returned Ilhom Ibodov’s body to them in Bukhara on September 13, and pressured them to bury the body by the next day. In November, authorities provided Ilhom’s mother with a death certificate listing the cause of death as “heart attack.”

International human rights groups asked an independent medical forensic expert from outside Uzbekistan, who has worked as chief of medical services for a government ministry as well as a consultant for human rights organizations, to examine photographs and video of Ilhom Ibodov’s body taken by family members on the day it was returned to them. The expert said that the images showed wounds around both ankles, a possible result of being shackled or bound with rope, and hematomas on his lower back, buttocks, shoulder, and the sole of his feet consistent with blunt force. The expert concluded that these and other marks were consistent with allegations of torture.

On February 15, 2016, a Bukhara criminal court sentenced Rahim Ibodov to eight years in prison for “illegal acquisition of foreign currency,” tax evasion, commercial trading and services violations, and money laundering. The judge ignored Ibodov’s statements in court that he and his brother had been beaten and that their confession was obtained through torture. He is serving his sentence in Tavaksay prison colony UYa 64/3 in the Tashkent region.

Uzbek authorities have repeatedly tried to intimidate Ilhom’s relatives and threatened that Rahim Ibodov will “never leave prison alive” if they continue to press for answers about Ilhom Ibodov’s death. To date, the family has written 160 petitions to various Uzbek government authorities, including 25 letters to the late President Islam Karimov and now interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, asking for an investigation into the torture of the brothers, Ilhom Mirziyoyev’s death in custody, and Rahim’s trial and sentence. Authorities have not meaningfully responded to any of the appeals. Nor has an investigation into Ilhom’s death or the torture allegations been ordered.

Khursand Rajabova - mother of Ibodov brothers
“As a mother, I only want one thing – for my son Rahim to be released, and justice for those who tortured my sons and killed Ilhom,” Khursand Rajabova, the men’s mother, told human rights groups. “Yes, my daughter and I have been threatened for appealing to human rights activists and journalists. But I will not be silent because I am certain that truth and a mother’s love are stronger.”

The Uzbek government, led by interim president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, should guarantee an effective investigation of the circumstances of Ibodov’s death, allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to monitor detention sites, allow non-governmental organizations into the country, invite the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to visit in accordance with his mandate, and bring national laws and practices into compliance with its international obligations to prevent and combat torture, the groups said.

For more than a decade, the UN special rapporteur on torture, the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Human Rights Committee, the US State Department, and numerous decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have recognized the widespread nature of torture in Uzbekistan’s prisons and places of detention. For 14 years, Uzbekistan has denied access to all 14 UN experts who have requested invitations, including the UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders and on torture, and has failed to comply with recommendations made by various expert bodies. In April 2013, the government’s interference with the ICRC’s prison monitoring led it to end its prison visitation program.

“Ibodov’s death is highly suspicious and demands a thorough and independent investigation and prosecution of anyone found responsible,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). “The Uzbek government should also allow for regular, unfettered, independent, expert monitoring of prison conditions, invite UN experts to visit the country, and bring its laws and practices in line with international standards to help prevent such deaths in the future.”

The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions call for the “thorough, prompt and impartial investigation” of all suspicious deaths in custody to “determine the cause, manner and time of death, the person responsible, and any pattern or practice which may have brought about that death.” The principles state that “families of the deceased and their legal representatives shall be informed of, and have access to, any hearing as well as to all information relevant to the investigation, and shall be entitled to present other evidence.”

Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the US and EU, should make clear that unless the Uzbek government makes measurable improvements in human rights, they will impose targeted restrictions such as visa bans and asset freezes against Uzbek government entities and individuals responsible for grave human rights violations, including torture, the rights groups said. They should also seek to establish a special rapporteur devoted to Uzbekistan’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“The Ibodov family needs more than our sympathy,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “They need justice, swift action from Uzbekistan’s international partners, and an end to the impunity for torture and abuse that reigns supreme in Uzbekistan.”

A Brother’s Account of Death by Torture

On August 16, 2015, SNB officers detained Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov at the Sitora car market in Bukhara, where they sold car accessories, stereos, and music. Relatives told Human Rights Watch that for several years, SNB officers and other officials had extorted bribes from the men to allow them to run their business. Just before their detention, the brothers had refused to continue paying large bribes and threatened to file an official complaint about extortion and racketeering, their relatives said. The relatives believe senior officers in the Bukhara regional SNB and tax department ordered the men’s detention.

Rahim Ibodov told his family that they were brought before a court, which sanctioned their arrest for “administrative violations” first for 10 days and then again for another 15. The brothers were held at a temporary detention facility of the Bukhara Department of Internal Affairs for those 25 days.

On the day of their arrest, a Bukhara police officer and an SNB officer told the men they would be immediately released if they agreed to sign a false confession, but otherwise would be detained indefinitely. Rahim Ibodov said that the confession stated falsely that the two used forced laborers, owned unauthorized trucks, and were receiving illegal foreign currency every month from abroad, and that Rahim Ibodov had illegally traveled with his mother to Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage through neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Rahim Ibodov later told his family that throughout their detention, officials encouraged four of their cellmates – the names of whom are known to the human rights groups but are not disclosed here for safety reasons – to beat the two brothers harshly as punishment for their plans to expose alleged corruption by SNB officers. The inmates beat the men daily. Rahim Ibodov said that his brother was beaten especially severely after he refused to provide further false testimony and continued to threaten to expose the officers’ involvement in various corruption schemes.

Rahim Ibodov later recalled that the cellmates had used something like rope to bind his and Ilhom’s feet together, and that they had been beaten on the soles of their feet.

On September 10, prosecutors charged the two men with “illegal acquisition of foreign currency” (under article 177(a)(b) of the Uzbek Criminal Code); tax evasion (article 184(3)); commercial trading and services violations (article 189), and money laundering (article 243).

Later that night or on September 11, security service officers transferred the men to a permanent SNB detention facility in Bukhara, where the two brothers were put in facing basement cells. On the way there, Ilhom Ibodov asked his brother to take care of Ilhom’s family in the event of his death.

On September 12, Rahim Ibodov told relatives that he saw through the open door of his brother’s cell three officers standing over him and begin to beat him. Rahim Ibodov identified the three officers as Azim Yunusov, head of the inspections department of the Bukhara SNB, an officer he knew as Bahodir whose surname he does not know, and an officer he knew as Inom whose surname he does not know but he believes was from the SNB’s anti-corruption department. He knew the officers because the officers had, for several years, extorted the bribes from the brothers. Rahim Ibodov told his family that he saw the officers landing continuous blows all over his brother’s body, including to his kidneys, shoulders, and chest.

Rahim Ibodov told relatives that the officer who he knew as Bahodir stepped on Ilhom Ibodov’s chest with both feet and yelled, “If we kill you, no one will ask us about what happened! No one!” Then the three began to hit and kick Ilhom Ibodov vigorously again. Rahim Ibodov said he believes his brother Ilhom lost consciousness at this stage. The officers summoned a doctor into the cell to examine Ilhom Ibodov. Rahim called to the doctor, begging her to help his brother. He said she answered: “I will help him once he’s dead.”