Uzbekistan: some positive developments but critics and journalists still face reprisals

Agzam Turgunov, 2017
This update was prepared for the CIVICUS Monitor by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) covering developments on civic freedoms in Uzbekistan from September to December 2017.
In this period, the Uzbekistani government remained concerned about improving its reputation in the eyes of the international community. However, the extent to which the recent reforms announced by President Mirziyoyev and his government will improve the overall human rights situation cannot yet be assessed. Thus far, many of the positive initiatives announced in recent months appear to be more in word than in actions.
Opening of the OSCE Central Asia Media Conference in Tashkent. More than 130 participants #CAMC17 pic.twitter.com/JDkxAKY5x3
— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) October 18, 2017
Expression and Association
Some signs of positive transformation
In 2017, some steps were taken towards increased press freedom in Uzbekistan, as previously reported on the Monitor. On 19th October, the OSCE's 19th Central Asia Media Conference took place in Tashkent. Noted improvements included some national television coverage of state assemblies showing discussions on problems and issues that were previously taboo. In addition, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has more often publicly criticised the work of high-ranking officials and state institutions and some, but not all, critics of the government seem able to speak out without fear of retribution. 
The state's granting of permission for the independent festival VIDEOART.UZ to take place after a four-year lull was viewed as a further sign of opening space in Uzbekistan. On 19th November 2017, Tashkent hosted the 28th independent video art festival, entitled "Trofimov Readings", which featured the works of Dmitry and Angela Trofimov, formerly citizens of Uzbekistan who now live in Russia. The festival was held under the slogan "New old black and white cinema". Although all seven films presented at the festival are old, filmed by the Trofimovs in and around Tashkent from 1990 to 1993, for the majority of people in Tashkent and even for sophisticated art critics, they are new as most people have not seen them before. The festival was organised by the founder of the independent "Center for Defamation and Insult", Oleg Karpov.
And Azam Farmonov too! Released after too, too long in prison in #Uzbekistanhttps://t.co/YWDYG4OM7G
— Mihra Rittmann (@MihraRittmann) October 4, 2017
Long overdue releases of four human rights defenders and journalists
In a positive development leading up to an the OSCE's 19th Central Asia Media Conference, four journalists and human rights defenders were released from detention.
Human rights defender Azam Farmonov was conditionally released from prison on 3rd October after spending 11 years in prison on extortion charges of which he was convicted in an unfair trial in 2006. The charges against him were widely believed to be politically-motivated in retaliation for his work defending the rights of farmers and persons with disabilities. In 2015, Farmonov’s original prison sentence was arbitrarily extended in a closed trial for another five years for alleged infringement of prison rules. The rules of conditional release mean that although Farmonov is in poor health, he has to pay 20 percent of his salary to the state. He is forced to work, since he has not yet been able to access the necessary medical treatment for health issues he developed when in prison. 
Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov, independent journalist and human rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Citizens’ Rights, was released from prison on 4th October. He was sentenced in 2008 to ten years in prison on fabricated charges of drug possession after an unfair trial.
Human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhonov, 66, convicted to 5 years (extended later) in 2009 was freed today in Uzbekistan. Photo #Ezgulik pic.twitter.com/9SHXp0yGGu— Navbahor Imamova (@Navbahor) October 16, 2017
On 9th October, Azam Turgunov, head of the "Mazlum" human rights organisation was released after ten years in prison. He was sentenced in 2008 on allegedly fabricated charges of extortion in an unfair trial and suffered torture while in detention.
On 16th October, human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhonov was also released from detention. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2009 on politically-motivated charges and his sentence was later arbitrarily extended for alleged violations of prison rules. 
In addition, working groups from the Special Commission for the preparation of materials on pardoning convicted persons serving sentences in penal institutions, established by President Mirziyoyev in September 2017, reviewed prisoners’ case files and conducted interviews with convicted persons. As a result, Mirziyoyev signed a decree pardoning 2,700 convicts, and 956 people were released from prison colonies. Amnesties and pardons can be in the form of a full or partial exemption from punishment, or conditional early release. 
In #Uzbeklistan, human rights activist Azam Turgunov speaks to @ozodlik after his release, (In Uzbek) https://t.co/Hgg2xK2XXD pic.twitter.com/txhlclT6nL
— Majlis Podcast (@Majlis_Podcast) October 10, 2017
ACHR and IPHR report that on 30th November 2017, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree prohibiting the courts' use of evidence obtained through torture, and forbade legal decisions on the basis of any evidence that was not confirmed during the trial. The degree stipulated that the prosecutor in charge of the criminal case should check whether physical or psychological pressure had been used on defendants or their relatives. If implemented in practice, these measures should prevent some of the serious miscarriages of justice which have frequently occurred in the past in Uzbekistan, as critics of the authorities have been tortured to force confessions for crimes they did not commit. The decree will come into force in March 2018. 
28 NGOs call on the authorities of #Uzbekistan to immediately release Bobomurad Abdullayev #OSCE #CAMC17 https://t.co/IysBy33YwU pic.twitter.com/33kgnb1cRI
— CivicSolidarity (@CivicSolidarity) October 2, 2017
New arrests, however, cloud the picture
The detention of independent freelance journalist Bobomurad Abdullayev by National Security Service (SNB) officials on 27th September 2017 in Tashkent indicates that independent journalists are still at risk of reprisal. Abdullayev previously headed the organisation OZOD OVOZ (Free Voice) and was a correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Fergana.ru, which is blocked in Uzbekistan. After his arrest, he was held incommunicado in detention for two days at an SNB pre-trial detention centre in Tashkent and on 1st October, was reportedly charged with anti-constitutional activities (article 159 of the Criminal Code) during a closed hearing at Yunusobad District Court in Tashkent. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison. The security services have accused him of working together with the exiled political opposition leader, Muhammad Salih, and of calling for the overthrow of the government under the pseudonym Usman Khaknazar. His colleagues are convinced that the charges are politically motivated. 
On 14th December 2017, he was allowed to see his defence lawyer for half an hour and for the first time since he was arrested. A SNB investigator was present during the meeting. There are serious concerns that he may be currently (or has been) subjected to torture and ill-treatment at the SNB pre-trial detention centre which is notorious for human rights violations against prisoners.
Since Abdullayev’s arrest, other government critics have also been implicated in the criminal case, including 27-year-old Akrom Malikov, employee of the Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences who was detained by the National Security Service in July in connection with critical articles published online. In addition, Shavkatjon Olloerov, who owns a restaurant frequented by high-ranking officials, and businessman Ravshanbek Salaev were both detained on the day after Abdullayev's arrest. On 20th October, the well-known economist, blogger, journalist and civic activist Hayot Nasreddinov was also arrested. His relatives have not yet been informed of the grounds for the arrest, and there are fears that they have been put under pressure not to talk to journalists. He is currently being held in a SNB pre-trial detention centre in Tashkent. There are serious concerns that he may have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment at the centre.
In August 2017, President Mirziyoyev announced that thousands of people had been taken off a “blacklist” for entering and exiting the country and called on those blacklisted and living abroad to return to Uzbekistan. However, when writer Nurullo Otahonov (pen name Nurulloh Muhammad Raufhon) returned to Tashkent on 27th September 2017 from voluntary exile he was detained at the airport. He was released on 1st October but is under house arrest and faces charges of extremism for his book, Bu Kunlar (These Days), which criticises the Uzbekistani authorities' actions since independence. The book was banned in Uzbekistan.
Detained #Uzbek Writer Nurullo Otahonov Released From Jail https://t.co/kQfuuxgZjW Charges still not dropped #Uzbekistan #CentralAsia
— Eurasia Update (@eurasia_update) October 2, 2017
And still others remain behind bars …
Despite the releases in recent months reported above, many journalists, human rights defenders and activists remain behind bars in conditions severely detrimental to their health.
IPHR and its partners report that at least 14 government critics, human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents remain in prison, after being sentenced to lengthy sentences following unfair trials, including:
  • human rights defenders - Mekriniso KhamadovaZulkumor KhamadovaGaybullo DhalilovChuan MatmakulovZafarjon RakhimovYuldash RasulovIsroil KholdorovFakhriddin TillaevDilmurod Saidov;   
  • independent journalists - Aziz YusupovGairat MikliboevYusuf Ruzimuradov and Bobomurad Abdullayev; and 
  • Dilorom Abdukodirova - a witness to the Andijan tragedy in 2005. 
Although some sources report that employees of the academic journal Irmok, namely Botirbek Eshkusiyev, Bahrom Ibragimov, Davron Kabilov, Davron Todzhiev and Ravshanbek Vafoev were released in 2015 and 2016, information about their release has not been confirmed as human rights defenders and diplomats have not yet been able to meet with them. Similarly, human rights defender and lawyer Matluba Kamilova is reported to have been released in 2015 but independent journalists and human rights activists have not managed to meet her and so there are fears that she may still be in prison.
At the Central Asia Media Conference in Tashkent, OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desire called “for the release of Dilmurod Saiid, Yusuf Ruzimurodov, Bobomurad Abdullaev and all other journalists still imprisoned”. 
In December, human rights defender and former prisoner Azam Turgunov told AHRCA that: 
“For about two years I was held with the journalist and human rights defender Dilmurad Saidov in prison colony 64/49. I saw him after he had been treated for tuberculosis. He was very sick, and suffers from acute stress and anxiety due to the deaths of his wife and daughter. [They died in a car accident while on the way to see him some years ago]. He needs urgent medical treatment. I ask everyone not to ignore his case but to do everything possible to secure his release from detention”.
IPHR and AHRCA have called on the Uzbekistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these and all others who have been imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds in order to demonstrate their serious commitment to the protection of fundamental rights as set out in the constitution.
Was so heartened today in #Tashkent to finally meet #Uzbekistan #humanrights defender #AkzamTurgunov, freed last month after 8 years of prison and torture. Turgunov's spirit was never broken & he's ready to begin the next chapter of his public service. He needs our support. pic.twitter.com/mlem7BquKU
— Steve Swerdlow (@steveswerdlow) November 16, 2017
And still challenges remain…
Despite some of the positive developments cited above, challenges remain concerning freedom of expression and the media. Laws governing freedom of expression and the media continue to severely restrict independent journalism.
State control of access to the internet and to proxy servers used to avoid censorship remains tight, with public access to independent news websites and social media periodically restricted. Media outlets in Uzbekistan operate under close state supervision and independent journalists risk reprisals for their professional activities. 
State intolerance of open public debate persists, particularly on human rights issues. Risks and threats to the safety of civil society activists continue, and members of the general public are generally afraid to speak out about political issues and share their opinions. 
“Planned” detentions of citizens on Tashkent streets by police
Detentions of citizens without identity documents have increased in recent months. At a 2nd November press conference, the first deputy commander of the Patrol Guards brigade under the Main Department of Internal Affairs of Tashkent stated that "law enforcement officers have recently been carrying out preventive work, aimed at preventing crime. Such activities involve checks on people who are likely to carry out crimes, those who cause suspicion and those who are wandering about aimlessly”.
These “planned” detentions are taking place on the basis of the new law which came into force on 17th March this year and which provides for regularly "scheduled" police detentions of any citizen in any place. As a rule, detainees are immediately taken to the local police station and held for several hours until checks have been carried out. Such identity checks and short term detentions affect critics of the authorities in particular. For example:
On 7th November, artist Aleksandr Barkovski was detained for a few hours and questioned for an hour at the police department at Bukhara train station after taking photographs of a public toilet.
Independent journalist Sid Yanishev was detained twice in November and December. On 12th December 2017, he was detained for 14 hours in the Tashkent village of Almazar and was taken to police station No. 61. He was questioned by police officers who confiscated his camera and dictaphone. He was subsequently transferred to the regional department of Shaikhantursky district of Tashkent, where his fingerprints were taken. In order to be released from detention, Yanishev had to agree to “voluntarily” delete all information from his camera and dictaphone.
Murad Djuraev has passed away but will live forever in our hearts https://t.co/PYYTjbY3Smpic.twitter.com/Wbu5ZIbwqG
— AHRCA (@ahrca) December 4, 2017
A tragic end for former political prisoner, Murad Djurayev
On 7th October 2017, former Member of Parliament Murad Djurayev, who spent 21 years in prison on politically-motivated charges, was granted permission to leave the country for urgent medical treatment. Tragically, however, Djuraev died suddenly on 4th December 2017, before he had a chance to leave Uzbekistan. He was 65 years old. Before his passing, Djuraev spoke about his detention:
Despite all the years I spent behind bars, when I suffered betrayal, separation from my family, hunger, torture, and when I lost the will to fight … solidarity proved to be stronger than all the obstacles and trials. As long as there is a human rights movement, there is a chance of saving those who share the idea of living in a just society”. 
Travel bans on former political prisoners and critics of the regime
Other former prisoners have not been given permission to leave the country, including former newspaper editor, Muhammad Bekjanov, who was released in February 2017 after spending 17 years in prison on politically-motivated charges and who remains under police supervision. Also, human rights defender and writer Mamadali Makhmudov was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down on politically-motivated grounds has not yet been granted an exit visa, for which he has repeatedly applied since June 2016 and has therefore not been able to leave the country for medical treatment. Makhmudov has heart, stomach and kidney problems and needs a pacemaker fitted.
Other individuals not in detention, but who criticise or who are perceived to criticise the Uzbekistani authorities have also been arbitrarily denied permission to leave Uzbekistan. For example, the artist Vyacheslav Akhunov has not obtained permission to travel abroad, despite repeated appeals since 2012. On 17th December, he confirmed that the Visa and Passport Office continues to refuse him permission to leave the country. Akhunov learned from a contact that the refusal is due to his continued criticism of the political authorities on social media.
17000 sign petition to investigate student Zhasur Ibragimov's murder in unusual display of indignation in Uzbekistan https://t.co/OfCy3rHrsv
— Nations in Transit (@FH_NIT) June 7, 2017
Peaceful Assembly
Uzbekistani law protects the right to participate in meetings and demonstrations, which can only be prohibited on security grounds. However, in 2016 amendments were adopted to the procedure for coordinating the activities of NGOs, creating additional obstacles to the freedoms of assembly and association. The bureaucratic and burdensome requirements governing public event organising perpetuate a system where the authorities grant permission for meetings, rather than receive notification of them. Organisers and participants of protests therefore still risk prosecution for criminal offences.
Developments in the case of Zhasur Ibragimov
As reported earlier this year, Zhasurbek Ibragimov, a student at the Borovskiy Medical College, died in Tashkent after being beaten up by unknown assailants.  
Civic activists Irina Zaidman and Maria Legler organised an online petition calling on the Uzbekistani authorities to find those responsible for Zhasurbek’s death and bring them to justice. The petition received unprecedented public support and was signed by over 20,000 persons. At a rally held in Duslik Park on 4th June, Deputy Chief of the Tashkent Central Internal Affairs Directorate Doniyor Tashkhodzhaev assured the participants that this tragic case would be thoroughly investigated. However, on 15th November 2017, Zaydman was summoned to the police station, where she was detained. Police officers searched her house on the same day. The next day she and Legler were found guilty of organising an unsanctioned meeting and sentenced to ten and 15 days of administrative detention respectively. Neither woman had a lawyer present at the closed hearing when they were sentenced, which is in violation of the Criminal Procedural Code of Uzbekistan. 
On 30th October, the judge of the Mirabad District Criminal Court of Tashkent, Matchanboy Matchanov, ruled that only Islombek Tulyaganov was guilty of causing Zhasurbek’s death and he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The judge found the other defendants not guilty, causing a public outcry, and Zhasurbek’s mother filed an appeal. Tashkent Court of Appeals was due to rule on the case on 1st December but the hearing was postponed. This case illustrates clearly how in Uzbekistan relations and connections prevail over the rule of law. The lawyers and relatives of Ibragimov are being subjected to pressure and harassment by law enforcement officials. The parties to the case are currently appealing the verdict of the court of first instance and a final decision will be taken by the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan. A Facebook group entitled "Have questions! Why are there no answers?" is monitoring developments in this case.


Murad Djuraev has passed away but will live forever in our hearts

Murad Djuraev
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) expresses its sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of Murad Djuraev after learning that he passed away today.

On 4 December 2017, Murad Djuraev, well known social and political figure and former prisoner of conscience, died suddenly at the age of 65 in the town of Murabek.

His life was a difficult one: he suffered persecution from the Uzbekistani authorities in retaliation for expressing views and having the courage to speak openly about problems in Uzbekistan. As mayor of Mubarek, he supported the opposition Popular Movement of Uzbekistan "Birlik" and its leaders, and in retaliation for this he was imprisoned in 1994 on fabricated charges. In total, he spent 21 years of his life behind bars, serving five consecutive terms on politically motivated sentences. After pressure from the international community, he was released in November 2015 but was already seriously ill.

With great difficulty, he eventually received a passport and, in October this year, was given official permission to travel abroad for treatment.

For the past two years, he was kept under complete surveillance by the National Security Services of Uzbekistan. He was threatened with re-arrest if he spoke to journalists, but he continued to believe that the reforms announced would take place and Uzbekistan would become a country where the observance of human rights would become the norm.

"I believe that only Uzbekistani citizens can contribute to positive change in our country. The main thing is to feel free and not indifferent, and then bars no longer matter” - Murad Juraev told AHRCA in October 2017.

He also dreamed of personally meeting with the activists from AHRCA, Amnesty International, International Partnership of Human Rights, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other international organizations and of participating in the next session of the UN Human Rights Council, to say that their participation in the fate of civil society activists in Uzbekistan can contribute to the restoration of justice. And to remind people that there are others currently in detention who need the support of the international community.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has corresponded regularly with Murad Juraev since the association was set up - his death is a terrible loss for us all.

Rest in peace Murad Juraev.


Open Letter of Uzbek NGOs to Global Forum for Assets Recovery

Global Forum for Assets Recovery
The StAR Secretariat
1818 H street NW
Washington DC 20433 USA

CC:  US Department of State; US Department of Justice;
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom  

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Le Mans, France;
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Berlin, Germany

December 1, 2017


We, two Uzbek civil society organizations in exile, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, write to the organizers and participants of the 2017 Global Forum for Assets Recovery to express our support to “Civil Society Statement for Global Forum on Asset Recovery” and to call attention to the situation surrounding return of the proceeds of corruption to Uzbekistan, a country that continues to be run by a repressive, kleptocratic regime following the transfer of power following the death of long-time autocrat Islam Karimov.  

Hundreds of millions have been stolen from the Uzbek people by the members of the ruling regime, whose constituent members remain the same despite the ascendancy of new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.  The widespread siphoning off of public funds through bribery and corruption in Uzbekistan has not been the fault of a single public official’s greed or poor leadership, but is rather the product of the systemic and entrenched nature of government corruption in the country, perpetuated by a network of public officials that remains largely unchanged, and indeed, unchallenged.

Return of the proceeds of corruption to the same government without safeguards to prevent their theft once again is against the word and spirit of the UN Convention against Corruption and is against the interests of people of Uzbekistan – the true victims of the corruption committed by country’s ruling elite. Those countries currently holding assets that are the ill-gotten proceeds of corruption in Uzbekistan who are considering repatriation of such assets to Uzbekistan must first consider whether the conditions that allowed for high-level bribery and money laundering in Uzbekistan have fundamentally changed. To date, anti-corruption reforms that would prevent the repeated theft of such assets have not yet been implemented in Uzbekistan. As such, an unconditional return of ill-gotten assets to Uzbekistan (or any requesting state without such reforms) will make the requested countries complicit in continued corruption in the country of origin.

What happened in Uzbekistan?

Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, extorted more than one billion USD in bribes from international telecom companies VimpelCom, TeliaSonera, Mobile Telesystems and others in exchange for local licenses to operate. Karimova received this amount through offshore companies and bank accounts in a number of western European countries. In total, the bribery scandal amounted to approximately 7% of the annual state budget of Uzbekistan and, as such, has brought harm to Uzbek people, depriving them of public services such as education, pension funds, and healthcare they would otherwise have received. 

What made this possible?

The absence of institutional integrity and policy mechanisms to prevent corruption and bribery is a primary reason. Uzbekistan still lacks any regulation on conflict of interests, does not make declarations of income by public officials obligatory, and does not have a transparent and accountable system of public procurement or allocation of state licences. Still today there are no independent anti-corruption bodies; no independent judiciary, and no other institutional safeguards against corruption.

Alongside Uzbekistan’s institutional weakness, a culture of corruption prevailed. Under former president Islam Karimov, high level public officials were instrumental in facilitating the enrichment of the ruling Karimov family and, in exchange, were enabled to enrich themselves. The government of Uzbekistan, was operationalized to serve the interests of ruling elites, rather than the interests of its citizens.

Have any of these conditions changed and has anyone responsible been held to account?

No serious steps have been taken by the government of Uzbekistan under the leadership of new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev toward institutional reforms, with the only exception of a step taken towards liberalization of currency exchange policies. Since the start of Mirziyoyev’s presidency, there have been no demonstrable reforms to tackle corruption, to establish rule of law, and to implement standards of transparency and accountability. 

In fact, the same high-level public officials complicit in the theft of more than one billion USD by Gulnara Karimova’s still occupy top government positions. Mr. Abdulla Aripov, who in his past capacity of Chairperson of the State Telecommunication Agency personally sanctioned the corrupt allocation of telecom licenses, has even been promoted to Prime Minister. At least one additional figure involved in the scheme, Rustam Inoyatov, Chairperson of the National Security Service, remains in his position. No legal proceedings have been initiated to hold these and other public officials to account.

The only individuals who have been charged and sentenced, under an extremely non-transparent process, is Gulnara Karimova herself and a few of her close associates who played exclusively technical roles (as nominal owners of shell companies) in the schemes. The trial and sentencing of Karimova and her associates transpired in violation of internationally acceptable norms of due process. While Karimova and her associates should without doubt be tried for this case, there is ample reason to believe the case against her has been used to substantiate the government of Uzbekistan’s claim for the ill-gotten proceeds of the scheme, and to ensure that the current ruling elite is able to recapture these proceeds.

As a result, there have so far not been any changes in Uzbekistan that would allow the safe return of the assets in question.

If asset holding countries decide to return the proceeds of this corruption back to Uzbekistan unconditionally, the leading members of its administration will recapture more than one billion USD will be taken under control by the same people who helped to steal these assets. That would only perpetuate the cycle of grand corruption in this country.

Why are we writing to the Global Forum on Asset Recovery?

GFAR, in practical terms, is not an official decision-making forum for governments on repatriation of assets, but is the most significant global event for policymakers to come together to discuss such issues. As such, we have chosen to write this open letter to GFAR in the hopes that policymakers will take the abovementioned issues into account.

Here are our recommendations, which are based on the example of Uzbekistan, to the sponsors, facilitators and participants of GFAR:

First: Stolen assets cannot to be returned to countries like Uzbekistan unconditionally. Conditionality is not necessarily against principles of state sovereignty. In the case of Uzbekistan, the government is in violation of both international law and in violation of its own laws, which exist on paper rather than in practice. International law, which prevails in other such cases where, for instance, governments are accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity, should prevail in cases of grand corruption where the government is the primary sponsor and perpetrator of the crime. There should be similar legal and policy provisions for crimes of grand corruption and money laundering stipulated by international law, and adopting conditionality in returning stolen assets to kleptocratic regimes would be a step in this direction.

Second: Asset restitution is an opportunity to challenge the impunity of corrupt ruling elites in countries notorious for grand corruption and systemic human rights violations. The UN Convention against Corruption provides for asset-holding states (countries of transit or destination) to return assets to the countries where they were stolen (country of origin). This provision should not be applied unconditionally. The process of asset return must be conditioned on a legal judgement of a requesting state (the country of origin) for their repatriation. This legal judgement must meet the standards of due process to be accepted by a requested states, a standard impossible to ensure if the requesting state fails to establish and enforce the rule of law.

Third: Requested states should take into account the institutional conditions that enabled the original theft of assets from the country of origin, and whether these conditions have changed. Requested states should also consider whether effective anti-corruption mechanisms have been established, and whether these mechanisms are implemented in practice.

Fourth: The decision to return the assets should also be assessed from the point of view of the norms of international law on human rights. A ruling regime that systematically abuses the human rights of its own population and where torture in custody and prisons is a routine practice cannot be credited to receive and manage stolen assets that are the proceeds of corruption. We hope to be heard by the sponsors, facilitators and participants of GFAR, and we ask that the example of our country be taken into account. 

A few words about ourselves:

The Association for Human Rightsin Central Asia (AHRCA), based in Le Mans, France, was established in 2006 by Uzbek political refugee Nadejda Atayeva and colleagues. Since then, the organization has provided assistance to 1,250 political refugees and victims of human rights abuses from Central Asia. AHRCA promotes their cases pro bono within international mechanisms for human rights. Over the last several years, AHRCA has submitted 40 reports to the EU and 11 reports to UN human rights mechanisms on the human rights situation in Central Asia.  E-mail: ahrca.org@gmail.com; : http://ahrca.org/; address: Centre MBE 140, 16, rue du Docteur Leroy, 72000 Le Mans, France.

The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGFHR), based in Berlin, Germany, was established in 2010 by Uzbek political refugee Umida Niyazova and colleagues. UGFHR specializes in monitoring and advocating for the abolishment of state-orchestrated systems of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, an issue that is fundamentally related to both human rights and corruption. UGFHR also runs the news-website Eltuz.com; Email: umida.niyazova@gmail.com; http://uzbekgermanforum.org/.   

Sincerely Yours,

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia

Umida Niyazova, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights


Message to UN review: Systemic reform needed in Uzbekistan to protect fundamental rights

In May 2018 Uzbekistan’s compliance with its international human rights obligations will be assessed during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a state peer review mechanism carried out under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

A submission for this review prepared by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and CIVICUS assesses Uzbekistan’s implementation of its obligations on the rights to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders. It is based on information obtained by AHRCA through its monitoring of developments in Uzbekistan through a network of in-country activists and analyzes of national legislation and practice in regard to fundamental freedoms.

The submission highlights the lack of progress made in fully implementing recommendations received by Uzbekistan during the 2nd UPR cycle in 2013. It particular, we note that although over the last year there have been some improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

Since this submission was completed, there have been further developments in the situation of civic space and CIVICUS, AHRCA and IPHR will summarize these nearer the time of the UPR review, which is scheduled to take place in May 2018.

Download the joint UPR submission on Uzbekistan


Еnd of a long and painful wait: former prisoner finally granted permission to travel abroad

Murad Djuraev,  2017
“ Despite all the years I spent behind bars, when I suffered betrayal, separation from my family, hunger , torture, and when I lost the will to fight ... solidarity proved to be stronger than all the obstacles and trials. As long as there is a human rights movement, there is a chance of saving those who share the idea of ​​living in a fair society. " Murad Djuraev, October 2017

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Amnesty International and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) welcome the news that on 7 October 2017 the Uzbekistani authorities granted permission to travel abroad to former parliamentarian Murad Djuraev, who was convicted for anti state crimes on politically-motivated charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison after an unfair trial in 1995. 

Murad Djuraev was released from prison in November 2015 after completing a 21-year sentence in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions. His original sentence was arbitrarily extended no less than four times because he allegedly violated the prison regime. One of the accusations against him was that he had not peeled carrots in the correct way.

 He requires urgent spinal surgery, but until two days ago had been refused permission to leave the country for treatment in Germany.

In August 2017 President Shavkat Mirziyoev signed a decree abolishing the legal requirement for nationals of Uzbekistan to apply for and obtain permission to travel abroad before leaving the country. The decree will enter into force on 1 January 2019. The use of these so-called exit visas is a practice that has long ago been abolished elsewhere in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

AHRCA, AI and IPHR urge the Uzbekistani authorities to take immediate action to end the practice of arbitrarily denying permission to leave the country to all other former prisoners, including those previously imprisoned on politically motivated grounds, who have been denied the right to travel abroad. In particular:
  • Former newspaper editor, Muhammad Bekjanov, who was released in February 2017 after spending 17 years in prison on politically motivated charges but remains under police supervision. Muhammad Bekjanov has not yet applied for an exit visa to travel abroad for medical treatment, as a local police officer told him that persons under supervision are not allowed to travel abroad. Bekjanov’s wife and children live in the United States and he has not seen his children for 19 years and has never met his grandchildren; and
  • Human rights defender and writer Mamadali Makhmudov who was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down on politically-motivated grounds but who has not yet been granted an exit visa, for which he has repeatedly applied, since June 2016 and has therefore not been able to leave the country for medical treatment. Mamadali Makhmudov has heart, stomach (ulcer) and kidney (stones) problems and needs a pacemaker fitted.
Other individuals not in detention, who criticize or who are perceived to criticize the Uzbekistani authorities, have also been arbitrarily denied permission to leave Uzbekistan. For example, the artist Vyacheslav Akhunov has not obtained permission to travel abroad, despite repeated appeals since 2012.  He was first refused an exit visa in January 2012 after criticizing Gulnara Karimova, daughter of late President Islam Karimov, on the website of the independent Fergana news agency.