Uzbekistan: Government crackdown on human rights defenders

March 22, 2007

Uzbekistan: Government crackdown on human rights defenders

Chair of the Appelliatsia (Appeal) human rights group in Andizhan, Saidzhakhon Zainabitdinov was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in January 2006. Arrested on 21 May 2005, his trial in the capital, Tashkent, was closed even to a defence lawyer appointed by his family. He was convicted of slander, "spreading information with the aim of causing panic" and other charges in connection with the killings in Andizhan. The court’s verdict and sentence were not officially disclosed until February 2006. He has been held incommunicado for lengthy periods and his current whereabouts remain unclear.

Dilmurod Muhiddinov

The trial of Dilmurod Muhiddinov, from the Ezgulik (Goodness) human rights group in Andizhan, was also closed. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in January 2006 after conviction on charges of attempting to overthrow the state, distributing materials that threatened public order, and involvement in "religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other banned organizations". Arrested with four other Ezgulik activists in May and June 2005, one of whom was subsequently released without charge and three others were convicted with him, receiving suspended three-year prison terms. They were arrested for being in possession of a statement on the Andizhan events issued by the opposition Birlik (Unity) party. The police also seized human rights materials from their homes.

Mutabar Tadzhibaeva

Mutabar Tadzhibaeva, head of the Utiuraklar (Fiery Hearts) human rights organization in the eastern town of Ferghana, was sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2006. She was convicted on 13 charges including membership of an illegal organization and using funds from foreign governments to threaten public order. She had insufficient time to prepare her defence, and consultations with her lawyer were in the presence of armed guards. In court, she was seated inside a cage, and access to the courtroom was severely restricted, including for her family. Her lawyer was forbidden to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva lost an appeal in May 2006.

Since her conviction, visits by her family and lawyers have been obstructed and parcels have not reached her. She was put in a punishment cell and given insufficient food and drink for 10 days for infringing prison rules after a pair of scissors was allegedly planted under her mattress. Her health is said to be deteriorating. One lawyer felt unable to go on representing her after she received threats, including against her own family.

Umida Niazova

Umida Niazova, a journalist and member of the Veritas human rights group, was detained on 22 January 2007 near the south-eastern border with Kyrgyzstan. On 28 January she was charged in Tashkent with illegally crossing the border and with smuggling subversive and "extremist" literature into the country, both offences punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. On the day of her arrest she had been expecting to receive back from her lawyer her laptop computer and passport, confiscated by police at Tashkent airport in December 2006 as she returned from a human rights seminar in Kyrgyzstan. At that time, her computer had contained a report on the Andizhan killings by the international NGO, Human Rights
Watch, for whom she was working as a translator in Tashkent.

Tortured with impunity