The Uzbek authorities are continuing to detain human rights activists, independent journalists and others seen as critical of the regime, using criminal charges to blacken their names, say activists in the country.
On July 11, Uzbek police detained Agzam Turgunov, a well-known human rights activist from the capital Tashkent. The arrest took place in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, a region designated an autonomous republic in northwestern Uzbekistan. Turgunov was there to serve as a lay “public advocate” in a civil law court case relating to a property dispute.
After his arrest, he was charged with the crime of extortion, the allegation being that the defence had offered him 450 US dollars to conclude the case amicably.
Some days later, the police searched Turgunov’s house in Tashkent and confiscated photos, a notebook containing addresses, a video cassette, an English-language issue publication about Muhammad Salih, the head of the opposition party Erk, and a book entitled “The Andijan Scenario”, about the May 2005 violence in which government troops shot hundreds of demonstrators.
NBCentralAsia commentators are alarmed at the practice of bringing criminal charges against human rights activists and other dissidents.
Diloram Ishakova, a member of the banned Erk party, believes the government is increasingly using criminal charges against its critics to portray them as “common fraudsters” and cover up the real motive, which is political.
“All this is blindingly obvious – it’s clear Agzam [Turgunov] has suffered for his human rights activity,” Iskhakova said.
Human rights activists recall the case of Solijon Abdurahmanov, a journalist from Karakalpakstan who was arrested in early May. Once again, the charges were criminal – he was accused of possessing and using drugs.
Investigators began by examining Abdurahmanov’s home computer, CDs and video disks they found at his house. A subsequent medical test found no trace of narcotics in Abdurahmanov’s blood. He says the Uzbek secret police planted drugs in his car.
Mutabar Tajibaeva, a prominent human rights activist, recently released after being jailed since 2006, told NBCentralAsia that the authorities use deception and fabricated charges so as to avoid being seen to be openly targeting their opponents and thereby incurring criticism from the international community.
In her own case, Tajibaeva said, “18 criminal charges were brought against me but still Amnesty International designated me as a prisoner of conscience. There were large-scale campaigns in my defence, and the authorities were forced to release me.”
An independent political analyst in Tashkent, who did not want to be named, said that since the authorities will not countenance criticism from human rights activists, journalists or opposition members, the tactic of inventing criminal charges to take such people out of circulation is likely to continue.
(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.)