21 november 2019

Central Asia news

Uzbekistan: Government Blocks Political Meeting. Harassment of Opposition Increasing

30.09.2003 00:00 msk

New York


The Uzbek government has effectively blocked the Erk Democratic Party from holding its congress in Tashkent and has increased persecution of the opposition party’s members, Human Rights Watch said today.

Government authorities failed to respond to the party’s September 4

request to hold its national meeting on September 27. Atanazar Arifov,

the General Secretary of Erk, told Human Rights Watch that without

government permission, no venue manager was willing to rent premises to

Erk for the meeting, at which more than 400 participants were expected.

“Uzbek officials use the rhetoric of rule of law and democracy,” said

Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and

Central Asia Division. “Yet they refuse to allow an opposition political

party to hold a simple meeting.”

In its March 2003 country strategy for Uzbekistan, the European Bank for

Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) called on the Uzbek government to

allow for “greater political openness” as one of three political

benchmarks on which the bank conditioned its long-term engagement in

Uzbekistan. The EBRD held its controversial 2003 annual meeting in

Tashkent in May.

“Preventing a political gathering flies in the face of the EBRD

benchmarks,” said Denber. “The EBRD and shareholder countries should

protest the Uzbek government’s actions and urge it to register

opposition political parties.”

In the lead-up to the Erk congress, officials harassed and threatened

Erk members in a clear attempt to dissuade them from attending the

congress.

In one case, an Erk member in Tashkent was badly beaten. On August 18,

two masked men broke into the home of Tashpulat Yuldashev, an Erk member

responsible for writing the party’s platform. They beat Yuldashev,

causing a concussion and bruising, including a black eye. Yuldashev told

Human Rights Watch that since then he and others closely associated with

him have been summoned for police questioning about his political

activities on several occasions and that he has been under constant

surveillance.

In August, tax police in Bukhara launched an investigation into the

business dealings of Nasrullo Saidov, the head of Erk in that city.

Launched two weeks before Saidov was to hold a regional Erk conference,

the timing of the investigation suggests it was intended to dissuade him

from holding the meeting. The conference was cancelled as a result of

the investigation and Saidov is now facing criminal charges that have

sprung it.

Arifov told Human Rights Watch that the police have telephoned him on

several occasions and warned him not to attend the regional Erk

conferences that were held in the lead-up to the September congress in

Tashkent. Another Erk member, also from Tashkent, told Human Rights

Watch that his son was threatened with criminal charges as a warning to

his father to stop his political activity.

In an earlier incident, police in Chirchik arrested Hasan Kambarov,

another Erk member, on March 23, 2003 and held him incommunicado until

May 14. According to Kambarov’s relatives, he was tortured in custody

through methods that included electric shock and suffocation. Police

questioned him about his political activities and asked him to name

other Erk members. Police reportedly detained him again on May 22, but

they and other authorities denied holding him. Kambarov’s relatives

received no news of him until July 15, when a man told them that he had

spent several days in a Chirchik police cell with Kambarov in July and

that Kambarov appeared to have been beaten. However, the authorities

continue to deny that he is in their custody.

“Brutal persecution of the political opposition is unfortunately routine

here,” said Denber. “Although the government claims to be responding to

calls to reduce torture and increase democratic participation, perceived

opposition to the government is often met with violence.”

The Erk (Freedom) Democratic Party is a political opposition group now

effectively banned in Uzbekistan. In the 1991 presidential elections its

leader, Mohammed Solih, who is now in exile in Norway, was the only

independent candidate ever to challenge Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

In November 2000, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan sentenced Solih in

absentia to a 15-year prison term on charges of terrorism and anti-state

activities. Human Rights Watch monitored the trial, and found it

reminiscent in all respects of Soviet-era show trials. No material

evidence of Solih’s guilt was presented. Nine of Solih’s co-defendants

also received lengthy terms in prison, and two other men, sentenced in

absentia in the same trial, were sentenced to death. Other individuals

associated with Erk remain in prison and should be released, Human

Rights Watch said. These include Muhammad Bekjanov, Rashid Bekjanov

(both brothers of Mohammed Solih), Kobil Dierov, Mamadali Mahmudov,

Ne'mat Sharipov, and Iusuf Ruzimuradov.

For further information please contact:

In New York, Rachel Denber: +1-212-216-1266

In Tashkent, Matilda Bogner: +99893-181-5422

In Brussels, Vanessa Saenen: +322-732-2009

In London, Urmi Shah: +44-20-7713-2788