17.10.17

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



11.10.17

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. 


2.10.17

Independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev arrested as OSCE prepares to discuss media freedom in Tashkent

The Civic Solidarity Platform
On 18-19 October 2017 Tashkent will host the Central Asian Media Conference organized by the Office of the Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Freedom of the Media.
It is in this context that we, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, and the other undersigned organizations express our concern for the safety of Uzbekistani journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev who was arrested on 27 September 2017 by officers of the National Security Services. We call for his immediate release and investigations into apparently unlawful arrest, and incommunicado detention.
An independent journalist and well known sports reporter and football commentator, Bobomurod Abdullayev previously also participated as an independent expert in discussions on “Ozodlik”, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He set up the media rights organization “OZOD OVOZ / Free Voice”, and worked as correspondent for Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews International.
On 27 September 2017 Bobomurod Abdullayev was seized by law enforcement officers as he left his house in Tashkent at about 13;30 pm. He was held in custody without contact with the outside world  and only on 29 September did his relatives learn he was being held in Yunusabad district police station  in Tashkent. According to his wife, he is formally being detained on suspicion of theft, although observers believe the detention is politically-motivated. Recently Bobomurod Abdullayev had told relatives he believed he was being followed. Reportedly, the investigation is being conducted by the Investigation Department of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, whose officers searched Bobomurod Abdullayev’s house on 29 September for over five hours and confiscated books, a computer and other media equipment.
On 29 September Bobomurod Abdullayev‘s family contacted an independent defence lawyer and on 1 October, his wife was able to visit him briefly in detention. However, on 1 October the family informed the lawyer that they do not require legal representation. This indicates that the family may be coming under pressure from the authorities.
Also on 1 October Yunusabad district Court was due to hear the case for remand in custody of Bobomurod Abdullayev but his relatives were unable to find out if this had taken place or not.
Since he came to power in September last year, Uzbekistan’s current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken steps to show the international community that he intends to implement much needed reforms in Uzbekistan. However, incidents such as this one clearly demonstrate that much remains to be done to end systemic repression of free speech and civic space in Uzbekistan. The detention of Bobomurod Abdullayev shows that there are as yet no convincing signs of an end to the long-standing pattern of persecution of journalists and human rights defenders in Uzbekistan.
The undersigned organizations call on the Uzbekistani authorities to immediately release Bobomurad Abdullayev and respect his fundamental rights to freedom of expression, as well as his rights to a defence lawyer of his choice and to ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Signed by the following NGOs:
  1. Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
  2. Austrian Helsinki Association
  3. Bir Duino
  4. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  5. Committee against Torture
  6. Centre de la protection internationale
  7. Center for Civil Liberties Ukraine
  8. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  9. Center for Participation and Development
  10. Crude Accountability
  11. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor
  12. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Poland
  13. Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
  14. Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (Belarus)
  15. Humanrights.ch
  16. Information Agency Fergana.ru
  17. IDP Women Association “Consent”
  18. International Partnership for Human Rights
  19. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rue of Law
  20. Legal policy research center
  21. Moscow Helsinki Group
  22. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  23. “Protection of rights without borders”, Armenia
  24. Public Association “Dignity “ supports
  25. Public Verdict
  26. Women of the Don
  27. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
  28. Helsinki Committee of Armenia

1.10.17

A freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev arrested in Uzbekistan

Bobomurod Abdullaev
On 27 September 2017, at approximately 13.30 in Tashkent, a journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev left his house but did not come back. Two days later, his family learnt that he was in custody in the pre-trial detention facility of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan.

In the afternoon of 29 September officers of the Security Services conducted a search, which lasted six hours, in the house where Bobomud Abdullaev lived with his family. The processor, books, disks and flash cards were seized. There is no information yet about the state of Bobomurod Abdullaev. A lawyer has not been allowed yet to see him.

Bobomurod ABDULLAEV was born in 1973. He has higher education. Mr. Abdullaev is a freelance journalist, he has been commenting on football competitions as a sports observer for many years; He participates as an independent expert in radio discussions of Ozodlik – the Uzbek language service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Mr. Abdullaev is the founder and was the leader of the project Ozod Ovoz – Free Voice. As an IWPR correspondent, he also participated in media projects of Internews International. Mr. Abdullaev started his journalistic career as the Editor in Chief of the Methodology Department of the Central Bank of the Republic of Uzbekistan and worked at the press service of the ASAKA Bank in Tashkent.

According to the preliminary version of the investigation, he was suspected of stealing. It is possible that this is a formal reason for his arrest, because, shortly before being arrested, he noticed that his was under surveillance.

On 1 October a court hearing was scheduled at the Yunusabad District Criminal Court to extend his preliminary detention. Neither his defence lawyer nor his family were able to find out whether this hearing took place or not.

We regard the arrest of Bobomurod Abdullayev, on the eve of the Central Asian Media Conference on the issues of the media freedom,organised by the Representative Office of the Organisation for Security andCooperation in Europe (OSCE), as a clear signal that the Uzbek authorities are not prepared to have a dialogue with civil society.

We urge the government of Uzbekistan to immediately release the freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev, respect his right to express his opinion freely and unhindered, have access to a defence lawyer of his choice and ensure that his trial is public, as well as granting access to his lawyer and relatives.





19.9.17

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting


Torture and ill-treatment in Central Asia (Working Session 12,
Rule of Law I, 19 September 2017)

The Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA, Uzbekistan, established by political emigres in France), the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR, Turkmenistan, based in exile in Austria) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) deplore the fact that law enforcement officers in Central Asia continue to use torture and other ill-treatment including electric shocks, suffocation, rape and beatings. The organizations are calling on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to prevent torture, punish the perpetrators and provide reparation including fair and adequate compensation to the victims.


Positive measures

The authorities of the Central Asian countries have taken some positive steps in recent years and pledged to make further progress on combatting torture and ill-treatment. For example, improved legislation on safeguards against torture in detention was adopted in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in January 2015 and May 2016 respectively, and in February 2017 the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan presented its strategy entitled “Towards a Society without Torture” with comprehensive measures including independent investigation of all cases of torture. In Kyrgyzstan the Coordinating Council for Human Rights under the Government developed a draft Action Plan for the implementation of the principles of the Istanbul Protocol for 2017-2020, which aims to improve investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment. In 2012 Turkmenistan included an Article on “torture“ in its Criminal Code with a definition that is in line with that contained in the Convention against Torture, and legal provisions were introduced for independent medical examinations of prisoners. In the last year amendments to the Law on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan unequivocally forbid law enforcement officials to use torture or ill-treatment, and legislation was to adopted to introduce video and audio recording of interrogations of criminal suspects by 2018.

However, some of these measures have yet to be implemented in practice and other major challenges remain.

Torture and ill-treatment continue to be widely used

Torture and other forms of ill-treatment still constitute a serious problem in Central Asia. In 2016 and the first half of 2017 the NGO coalitions against torture registered 163 / 1111 new cases of torture or ill-treatment in Kazakhstan, 112 / 75 cases in Kyrgyzstan, and 57 / 33 cases in Tajikistan. These figures only represent the tip of the iceberg as many victims of torture refrain from lodging complaints for fear of reprisals or because they have lost hope of attaining justice. Given the closed nature of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan it is difficult to establish estimates of incidents of torture and ill-treatment, but results from a survey conducted by the NGO Turkmen International Lawyers’ Association in 2016 indicate that 90 percent of people detained by law enforcement bodies are subjected to psychological or physical pressure. In Uzbekistan torture continues to be routinely used in places of deprivation of liberty run by the National Security Service, as evidenced by the numerous statements of victims and former prisoners received by AHRCA over the past year.

CASE EXAMPLES:

On 19 June 2015 Yusuf Mamed-ogly Pirigam was arrested on drug-related charges and alleges that in Chuy district police station in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, police officers beat him and put a plastic bag over his head to force him to “confess“. He lost consciousness and during the night he was taken to hospital by ambulance. The doctor on duty reportedly found that Pirigam had two fractured ribs. On 2 July 2015 he lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office of Chuy district, but prosecutors decided that no investigation was needed. Since then the case has been opened and closed several times, but investigations have not been conducted effectively; in 2017 the case was transferred for investigation to the State Committee for National Security.

On 29 August 2015 law enforcement officials of the town of Vakhdat, near Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, arrested 35-year-old Umar Babazhanov. At the police station they beat him repeatedly as he was lying on the floor of a corridor and as a result he lost consciousness and was taken to hospital. Umar Babazhanov never regained consciousness and died on 9 September 2015. A forensic examination concluded that he had died from a traumatic brain injury. Since 2015 the procurator’s office in Vakhdat has closed the investigation into the case several times and the Prosecutor General’s Office has repeatedly referred it back to Vakhdat to resume investigating. Most recently, the Vakhdat prosecutor’s office closed the case in June 2017. The lawyer acting for Umar Babazhanov has repeatedly lodged complaints with the Prosecutor General’s office, the human rights Ombudsman and the President complaining about the lack of effectiveness of the investigation; obstruction of access to case materials; and failure to question witnesses.

After the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkmenistani authorities began a severe crackdown on individuals accused of being associated with the Hizmet movement and its leader, Fethullah Gülen, who has been accused of masterminding the coup attempt in Turkey. To our knowledge, over 150 people were detained in Turkmenistan in September/October 2016 and April/May 2017, as part of the anti-Gülen crackdown. Eighteen of them, detained in September/October last year, were handed down prison sentences ranging from 12 to 25 years after a closed, two-hour trial in February 2017, which did not meet international fair trial standards. There are credible allegations that they were held incommunicado during pre-trial detention and that they were being held naked in darkened rooms for long periods and beaten. Unconfirmed reports claim that another man, arrested at the same time, died in custody as a result of torture.

In Uzbekistan, a former prisoner who was released from detention in July 2016, told AHRCA on condition of anonymity that his former cell-mates reported that “even the guards in prison colonies beat prisoners. Prisoners are tortured in order to force them to cooperate with the National Security Services, to get them to testify against people that they don’t even know [...] they are just shown a photo and told a name and told to write out a text dictated to them. This practice is particularly used in relation to detainees who have returned to Uzbekistan from abroad“.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        


In all five countries, victims of torture and ill-treatment face serious disincentives to lodging complaints. Kazakhstani law enforcement and prison officials attempt to obstruct the registration of torture complaints by warning victims that they will be held criminally responsible if they provide false information. In Kyrgyzstan, officials of the Prosecutor General’s office have stated their intent to initiate criminal proceedings against victims of torture who withdraw their complaints or refuse to press charges against alleged perpetrators. Across Central Asia protection programmes for those who complain about torture and for witnesses do not function effectively and many refrain from reporting such crimes for fear of reprisals or withdraw complaints after law enforcement officers subject them to or threaten them with further abuse.

Another obstacle for victims in their struggle for justice is the authorities’ failure to ensure that investigations are conducted promptly, thoroughly, impartially and independently. None of the five countries has yet put in place independent mechanisms to receive and investigate complaints, despite recommendations to this effect issued to each of them by the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture in recent years. While steps have been taken particularly in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to make investigations of torture more effective by strengthening the role of prosecutors, police officers still carry out the actual investigative activities in many cases. In Kyrgyzstan investigative activities into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are carried out by agents of the State Committee for National Security, an agency that lacks transparency, has close ties with law enforcement agencies, and is itself often implicated in torturing and ill-treating detainees. Even when investigations are conducted exclusively by prosecutors, this does not ensure the effectiveness of the investigation. Prosecutors in Central Asia have an inherent conflict of interest originating from their roles of both taking forward the criminal prosecution and supervising the legality of the investigative process.

Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have introduced articles on “torture“ into their criminal codes with definitions of this crime that are in line with the UN Convention against Torture. We call on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to follow their example. However, impunity for torture and ill-treatment remains a challenge across the region. Central Asian human rights organizations ‘monitoring work reveals that most perpetrators are not brought to justice. The authorities of all Central Asian states fail to publish comprehensive statistics on complaints, criminal cases, convictions and means of redress relating to torture and other ill-treatment covering all relevant articles of the respective criminal codes. In those countries where some official figures are publicly available they reveal large discrepancies between the number of complaints lodged and the investigations subsequently opened; and the number of guilty verdicts handed down is typically very low. For example, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyrgyzstan, 435 complaints were received in 2016; only 35 criminal cases were opened, and only 20 cases reached the courts. Tajikistan has published statistics of all the cases opened for “torture“ under Article 143-1 since its introduction into the Criminal Code in April 2012. Only nine criminal cases were initiated; one perpetrator was given a suspended sentence and three were sentenced to between one and seven years’ imprisonment. According to the authorities of Turkmenistan, not a single criminal case has been brought in this country since Article 182 on “torture“ was introduced in August 2012.

Access of victims of torture or their bereaved families to reparation is very limited in Central Asia: in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan NGOs are aware of six cases in each of the two countries where compensation has been awarded for moral damages sustained through torture. These are positive steps and the other countries should make progress in this direction too. At the same time, more has to be done to ensure that the amounts awarded are fair and adequate. Domestic law in all five countries does not provide for the right to rehabilitation services for victims of torture or their bereaved families, and NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have used their own funds to try to ensure that these needs are met. Other forms of reparation such as measures of satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition are not available in any of the Central Asian countries.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and set up national preventive mechanisms (NPMs), which began visiting places of deprivation of liberty in 2014. Both NPMs have proved themselves to be important safeguards against torture, although Kazakhstan’s NPM requires further improvements including being able to function with full independence. Tajikistan should build on the experience of the Monitoring Group established under the Ombudsman’s Office, which has conducted limited monitoring of places of deprivation of liberty since February 2014, ratify OPCAT and set up its own NPM. There is no independent oversight of detention facilities and prisons in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, and independent international human rights monitors continue to be denied access to Turkmenistan.

Recommendations to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan:

The human rights groups jointly issuing this statement are calling on the authorities of the five Central Asian states to implement the following recommendations as a matter of urgency:

• Legislate that detainees under any form of detention are given access to all fundamental legal safeguards in detention and at the time of arrest , consistently implement these provisions in practice and bring to justice anybody who fails to provide or obstructs access to these safeguards.

• Compile and publish comprehensive statistics on cases of law enforcement agents and other officials accused of, charged with and punished for failing to implement these legal safeguards. Detail the types of punishments handed down.

• Ensure that complainants and witnesses are protected against reprisals as soon as the authorities receive the complaint/witness report and that appropriate disciplinary or criminal measures are imposed against perpetrators for such actions.

• Put in place accountable mechanisms tasked with receiving complaints and conducting prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.

• Bring to justice all perpetrators of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: Bring the definition of torture contained in the countries’ criminal codes in line with the definition included in the Convention against Torture.

• Put in place a unified system to register cases involving torture and other forms of ill-treatment and compile comprehensive statistics disaggregated by sex, age and, where applicable, charges brought, on complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions and means of redress. Ensure that not only cases under the article entitled “torture” of the criminal code are included, but all cases involving allegations of torture or other forms of ill-treatment such as those opened under charges of “abuse of authority” and “exceeding official authority”.

• Ensure that victims of torture or their bereaved families have access to all forms of reparation, including fair and adequate compensation from the state budget, free rehabilitation, measures of satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

Kazakhstan: Ensure the full independence of the country’s National Preventive Mechanism.

Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan: Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and set up an independent, competent and fully resourced National Preventive Mechanism.

• Fully implement all recommendations issued to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan by relevant UN treaty bodies and procedures.




18.9.17

An Open Letter to the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce regarding the Situation in Uzbekistan on the Eve of its Meeting with President Mirziyoev


Ms Carolyn Lamm
Chair
American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce
601 13th St NW # 600S
Washington, D.C. 20005


Dear Chairwoman Lamm

We, the undersigned Uzbek citizens and activists, write to you on the eve of your dinner with President Shavkat Mirziyoev on September 20, 2017, to express concern that your members may be misled into believing that meaningful reform is underway in our country. We ask you to share with them this letter explaining the current conditions in Uzbekistan and the risks any firm investing or doing business in the country will face. We further ask you to urge the President to reform the judiciary and create an independent, impartial and effective body to investigate allegations of corruption.

If Uzbekistan does not take such steps towards establishing rule of law, your members, as well as the other American companies who might consider investing in Uzbekistan, should be aware that their investments and the security of their personnel would be at great risk in the country.

Although the December Presidential elections were neither free nor fair, we recognize that President Mirziyoev has taken some steps to pave the way for reform, mainly by improving relationships with neighbors in Central Asia and by softening restrictions of the freedom of expression within the country.  We also welcome the government’s invitation for Human Rights Watch to reinstate its monitoring mission in Uzbekistan, as well as the new round of dialogue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Yet Uzbekistan remains an autocratic regime where human rights abuses and corruption are the norm, rather than the exception. 

Despite the release of several political prisoners in 2016 and 2017, dozens of civil society activists and journalists still languish in prison, along with thousands of people imprisoned for exercising their right to freely practice their religion.

The practice of forced labor continues on a massive scale, regardless of claims by the ministries of labor and education that they are “banning” the draft of schoolteachers and medical personnel to take part in the cotton harvest.

Restrictions on the right to freedom of association and assembly, reinforced in 2004-2007, and curbs on the right to freedom of movement (through so-called exit visas) remain in force. 

The country has not yet made meaningful steps towards establishing an independent judiciary, adopting anti-corruption measures, or other steps necessary to create the rule of law.  There remains a climate of complete impunity for corruption and abuse of public office by top officials.

This poses a significant threat to those who would invest in Uzbekistan.  Consider what happened to two of the foreign investors, Mobile Telesystems and VimpelCom.  Both sought licenses to operate a mobile phone network. Gulnara Karimova, whose father was then president, assisted by Abdulla Aripov, then head of Uzbek telecom state agency, demanded bribes in return. These companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars for “the right to invest”. The bribes were discovered and both were prosecuted by European and American authorities. VimpelCom was fined $795 million and Mobile Telesystems’ parent company is telling shareholders it expects to pay more than $1 billion to settle the case. 

While President Mirziyoyev has said that such abuses have ended with his assumption of power, potential investors should consider who he has appointed Prime Minister, Abdulla Aripov, the very same individual that colluded with Karimova to shake down Mobile Telesystems, Teliasonera and VimpelCom.

Further evidence that things have not changed since President Mirziyoyev’s election comes from his government’s recent efforts to recover the bribe monies the three companies paid.  The monies are now the subject of civil forfeiture actions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice under its Kleptocracy Initiative. Yet in an attempt to defeat the case, Uzbekistan’s government has held secret trials where they convicted Karimova and a few of her subordinates for related crimes.

In Karimova’s case the trial was staged in the kitchen of her house with only a judge, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer present. All were assigned by the government, making the case a travesty of justice and a plain violation of Uzbekistan’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The government now claims those guilty of demanding the bribes have been brought to justice and the $850 million in bribe money should be returned.

Uzbek activists have already urged the Department of Justice to reject the government’s ludicrous claim and find a way to ensure the funds are used for the benefit of Uzbek citizens, true victims of corruption.  One way to show that the country is becoming a safe place for foreign investors would be if it agreed to a settlement with the Department of Justice under which the monies Karimova and her accomplices, among whom Mr. Aripov and security services, stole would be donated to an independent charity established to operate in the interests of the people of Uzbekistan. A good precedent is the creation of the Bota Foundation, which ensures that the proceeds of corruption from Kazakhstan are returned to its citizens through social programs run under the supervision of an international Board.  

Government spokespersons have stressed the steps they are taking to improve the investment climate, including a new policy on currency exchange, but these steps are far from being sufficient to create adequate conditions for foreign direct investments. Political risks for foreign (and for local) businesses in Uzbekistan remain extremely high. The state bureaucracy and the judiciary in Uzbekistan are still controlled by the security services, which operate in secret as a government within a government.  The extortion of bribes from foreign companies by Karimova, Aripov, and their cohorts was possible only with the assistance of the security service and other law enforcement agencies.

Nothing has changed since then - except the arrest and conviction of Karimova.  Indeed, what we see now is the formation of a new clan around Mirziyoyev, notably through the elevation of his sons-in-law.

In principle, we would welcome foreign investment in Uzbekistan and the chance for our country to open up to the world.  But we fear that, without reform, foreign investors will face the same outcome as Mobile Telesystems and VimpelCom. Or the same problems as General Motors – Uzbekistan, whose workers were forced by the Uzbek authorities to pick cotton. We urge you to consider raising the matters mentioned above with the President, as it would be in your own best interests for Mr. Mirziyoyev to create conditions for a safe and healthy business environment in Uzbekistan.

Sincerely,

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Le Mans, France, n.atayeva@gmail.com   (contact person)

Umida Niyazova, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Berlin, Germany, umida.niyazova@gmail.com (contact person)

Alisher Abidov, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, resident of Norway

Alisher Taksanov, journalist, resident of Switzerland

Daniel Anderson, Uzbek refugee, former political prisoner, Oslo, Norway  

Dilobar Erkinzoda, Stockholm, Sweden

Kudrat Babadjanov, Stockholm, Sweden

Ulugbek Haydarov, former political prisoner, resident of Canada

Jodgor Obid, former political prisoner, poet, member of the International Pen-Club (Austria), resident of Austria


CC: The Honorable Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State

CC: The Honorable Pamela Spratlen, The U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan

CC: Chief Executive Officers of the sponsors of American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce:
AGCO
American Councils for International Education
Baker & McKenzie
Boeing
Caterpillar
CNH International
Coca-Cola
General Electric
General Motors Korea
Hogan Lovells
Honeywell
Hyatt Regency (Tashkent)
John Deere
Lockheed Martin
Lutron
Macro Advisory
McLarty Associates
Nukem
Oppenheimer
Travelport
Visa
White & Case
White64
Zeppelin CAT










 



 


12.9.17

Human rights changes: more piecemeal than systemic

This update covers developments affecting civic space in Uzbekistan from July to September 2017. It has been prepared by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) for the CIVICUS Monitorew image on Twitter
Are the Uzbek authorities interested in a genuine dialogue with human rights groups?
On 2nd September, after receiving an invitation from the Uzbek government, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) delegation visited Uzbekistan for the first time in seven years.  HRW called on the government both publicly and in official meetings to release all those imprisoned on politically-motivated charges, put an end to torture and other forms of ill-treatment in places of detention, and cease the use of forced labour in the country’s cotton fields. 
As part of the HRW delegation, Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at HRW, declared:
"This is a real moment of hope for the human rights of the Uzbek people. The key is for the Uzbek government to transform the modest steps it has taken thus far into institutional change and sustainable improvements”.
In a statement on 18th July, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that Uzbekistan is open for official visits from other international human rights organisations, in addition to HRW. Despite this positive development, information in the following sections demonstrates that reform remains piecemeal and much remains to be done to end systemic repression of civic space in Uzbekistan. 


View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

After 7 long yrs I am so grateful/energized to be back in  advocating 4 -In moment of hope, govt shd focus on rights.

Expression

A selective approach to citizens’ complaints
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has declared 2017 the "Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interest", thereby issuing a Presidential Decree requiring state institutions to make more efforts to observe citizens' human rights, freedoms and interests, and to respond in a timely manner to citizens' appeals. 
The virtual reception service initiated by the president of Uzbekistan is gaining popularity among the general public as the only efficient way of providing information on human rights violations to the Presidential Office. In cases related to foreign policy and which would impact the country's image in the eyes of the international community, authorities have taken concrete measures to address such appeals. Appeals addressed to the president through other channels have also been given due attention, such as in the following case of a former Uzbek citizen residing in the U.S.
Long-term stability of  requires far-reaching reforms, transition from a police state to one more responsive to its citizens
Mirziyoyev declared 2017 the “Year of Dialogue” - but political speech and expression remain suppressed in Uzbekistan
A former Uzbek citizen living in the U.S. recently appealed to President Mirziyoyev through the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty-Ozodlik with a complaint about the country's diplomats withholding permission for him to visit Tashkent. A message subsequently appeared on the website of the Foreign Ministry stating that:
"Uzbekistan has paid attention to the 1 September 2017 article on radio Ozodlik website under the heading - 'A complaint to the President about Uzbek diplomats in USA'… we inform you that the responsible officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic, Kadamba Sultanov, based in Washington, has been given permission to meet and discuss the issues with the author of the letter”.
This reaction by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan provides a positive example for other government agencies and organisations, and if the practice is continued, it may lead to increased public trust in the government. The example also illustrates a possible change of attitude within the government towards independent media, notably radio Ozodlik, which is still blocked in Uzbekistan.
A genuine process of civic engagement, however, is still in its early stages; other state agencies are reportedly more selective and reticent in their responses to complaints. For example, complaints and appeals from entrepreneurs and business people to official bodies often go unheeded, especially if they are critical of heads of administrations, tax departments and judicial bodies. For example, over the last three years, Tashkent-based entrepreneurs Elena Agibalova and Dinara Latipova have been seeking justice through the courts for the illegal seizure of their property and charges which they claim were fabricated in retaliation for them lodging an official complaint about a tax inspector who was demanding bribes from them. They reportedly have received threats of violence for making these statements.

PRESS FREEDOM

Although there have been some positive steps towards increased press freedom in Uzbekistan over the last few months, the impression of some civil society activists is that these steps are more cosmetic in nature, rather than indicative of a government commitment to systemic reform. For example, in April 2017 state television aired a programme called “International Press Club”, during which current problems were discussed live. However, after one episode in which the actions of the Prime Minister were criticised, the programme was taken off the air and is now pre-recorded before broadcasting. State media journalists told RFE/RL that on 22nd August that Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov ordered an end to all live broadcasts, except the news. The director of Uzbek National Television and Radio Company Bobur Alikhonov was dismissed in the wake of the controversy, making him the third head of the state broadcaster to lose his job since President Shavkat Mirziyoev came to power.
State agencies have also recently begun to provide public information on issues which were previously taboo, such as criticism of state bodies, including judicial and prosecutor’s offices; cases causing public outcry; the situation of some political prisoners; and corruption-related incidents. They have also begun to post information on their websites about their policies and positions. This information has been followed and disseminated by online media publications outside Uzbekistan. Previously, the state-controlled mass media in Uzbekistan had rarely covered such sensitive issues. 
One specific example of how the media have grown more emboldened to report on sensitive or controversial issues is the media coverage of the criminal case against Gulnara Karimova, eldest daughter of the late President Islam Karimov. On 28th July 2017, the Office for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the General Prosecutor's Office issued a press release regarding her arrest in connection with a second criminal case against her. The first criminal case was opened on 24th October 2013 and concerned allegations of tax evasion among members of the Terra Group LLC, Prime Media LLC and Gamma Promotion LLC. The investigation found that under Gulnara Karimova’s supervision of these companies a number of crimes were committed in the period 2001-2013. In August 2015, Karimova was sentenced  to five years’ detention by the Tashkent Regional Court. On 31st July 2017, Karimova's lawyer, Grégoire Mangeat, confirmed in a letter to Ferghana that the eldest daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov is currently not under house arrest, but in custody.
STATE ACTIONS TOWARDS CRITICAL VOICES 
On 22nd August, Erkin Musaev, a former Uzbek government official and UN employee, was released from prison after serving 11 years. He was initially sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2007 after an unfair trial, during which he was found guilty of spying. He was allegedly tortured and forced to sign a confession of guilt after threats were made by security officials against his family. 
LIFTING THE EXIT VISA REQUIREMENT
In August, the Uzbek authorities announced that starting 1st January 2019, Uzbek citizens will no longer be required to apply for permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to leave the country and travel abroad. The use of exit visas is an old Soviet-era practice that has already been abolished elsewhere. A black list of those who are banned from travelling abroad has posed persistent problems in Uzbekistan in recent years. In the meantime, however, as highlighted in the July update from IPHR and its partners, former prisoners on politically-motivated charges, Murad Dzhuraev and Muhammad Bekjanov, as well as others who have spoken critically of government policies, such as artist Vyacheslav Akhunov, remain banned from traveling abroad. 

PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY 

In an incident on 22nd August, two elderly Uzbek citizens were doused with cold water as they peacefully protested outside the presidential administration building. According to the online news outlet Fergana.ru, 85- year-old pensioner Nina Sahartseva and 80-year-old Yulia Syavich from Tashkent were standing with signs asking President Mirziyoyev to meet them to hear their complaints,  After the women had stood there calmly for two hours, officials from the presidential administration came out and one grabbed the elderly women roughly by the hands and doused them with water. 
Earlier in August, Fergana reported that on 15th August a spontaneous rally was held by hundreds of people outside the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan. Angered by the long wait for appointments with the chairman of the Supreme Court, Kozimzhon Kamilov, the crowd of several hundred people reportedly began pushing on the iron gates in front of the court, eventually breaking it down. Fergana quoted an eye witness as saying, 
You should have seen what power these people demonstrated – they went into the court yard and building... the guards were running around everywhere... people’s nerves are exhausted”. 
On 19th August the Supreme Court issued a communiqué refuting the Fergana report. The Uzbek service of Radio Liberty reported eyewitness accounts confirming the incident. 
Authorities respond to public outcry over the case of Zhasurbek Ibragimov
IPHR and its partners continue to monitor progress on the criminal investigation into the case of the 18-year-old student Zhasurbek Ibrahimov, whose death, allegedly at the hands of fellow students, sparked public protest actions demanding a thorough investigation. The Mirabad district Ministry of Internal Affairs responded to the public outcry over the case by opening a criminal investigation into the deliberate infliction of grievous bodily injuries that resulted in the student's death. To that end, on 13th August a meeting was held at the Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan involving some 40 doctors and medical specialists as well as representatives of the Tashkent City Prosecutor's Office. One of the six alleged perpetrators remains in custody at the time of writing.