Accessibility links

Breaking News

Uzbekistan: Authorities Prefer Their Challengers Behind Bars

Prisoners at the Andijon trial (RFE/RL) Observers say the government of Uzbekistan has taken steps to curtail the activities of many of the country's rights workers and opposition leaders since the bloody suppression of the Andijon popular uprising in May. One, activist Yelena Urlaeva, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for nearly three months before being released last week. Others are in police custody, including opposition leader Sanjar Umarov and activist Mutabar Tojiboeva. With Uzbekistan nearing the end of trials of the alleged Andijon perpetrators, RFE/RL reports on the continued repression of many of the country's activists.

Prague, 31 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yelena Urlaeva could hardly hold back her tears. Speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in Tashkent, she described her release late last week from a psychiatric hospital where authorities had forced her to undergo treatment.

"I was already asleep. At 10 o’clock, medical staffers came to me and said: ‘Yelena, get your things. They’ve come for you,'" she told RFE/RL.

It was the end of the third psychiatric committal for Urlaeva, a well-known human rights activist. When she was returned yet again in August, many saw the move as part of a campaign by authorities to crack down on the opposition.

That campaign appeared to gain strength following the government's violent suppression of a popular uprising in Andijon in mid-May.

Urlaeva was arrested in August for publishing a cartoon of the national emblem of Uzbekistan and for being in possession of material that criticized the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Some rights activists also suggested that authorities detained Urlaeva ahead of Uzbekistan’s Independence Day (1 September) to prevent her from organizing public demonstrations.

Local activists welcomed Urlaeva’s release, but expressed concern about many others still remaining in custody -- including Sanjar Umarov, the leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition group, who was detained on 22 October.

Umarov, an oligarch with business interests in Uzbekistan and the West, formed his group in April in the wake of the Tulip Revolution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Since then, he has regularly called for the dismissal of the Uzbek government, and openly criticized Karimov for the military crackdown on the Andijon protesters.

Umarov was arrested soon after calling on Uzbek authorities to start a political dialogue. He had also written a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling for stronger ties with Russia, and declaring his intention to seek a solution to the current political crisis in Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 26 October that Umarov had been charged with embezzlement and fraud. Sunshine Uzbekistan said the arrest was politically motivated.

Umarov’s lawyer, Vitalii Krasilovskii, visited his client in prison last week and expressed concern about Umarov's declining physical and mental health. Krasilovskii also told RFE/RL that he has yet to see documents related to Umarov’s arrest and the charges against him. He has also been refused further access to his client.

"From that time, I haven't been able to learn anything about him. I can't even ask over the phone about the state of Sanjar Umarov's health. It's irresponsible! They [authorities] intentionally want to keep me from knowing anything [about Umarov.] This is the only thing I can think of," Krasilovskii said.

"[President] Islam Karimov arranges [a demonstration or uprising] in order to suppress growing opposition. He then eliminates the society’s leading opposition forces. It’s his policy." -- opposition politician

Mutabar Tojiboeva, another well-known right activist, was detained on 7 October and prevented from attending a human rights conference in Dublin, Ireland.

Tojiboeva's lawyer, who asked not to be named, has also been refused access to his client, despite her alleged poor health. "Mutabar’s condition is very bad," he said. "She started a hunger strike. They [prison authorities] said I should appeal to the prosecutor’s office as they can’t give her medicine. They said, ‘We have too much work, too many people.' But she’s been bleeding."

The website today published a list of Uzbek political and rights activists detained since the 13 May uprising in Andijon. The list, compiled by the independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, includes the names of 19 men and women.

Topping the list is Saidjahon Zaynabiddinov, head of the Andijon-based Appelyatsiya rights group. Zaynabiddinov monitored the trial of the 23 Andijon businessmen that led to the May uprising. He was arrested on 23 May after giving interviews to foreign media outlets.

The most recent arrest is that of Human Rights Society member Nasim Isakov, who was detained on 27 October in the central Uzbek city of Jizzakh.

"Eight members of the Human Rights Society have been detained," Tolib Yoqubov, the Tashkent-based head of the society, told RFE/RL. "Most people understand who the real criminals are behind the Andijon events. It’s normal that those criminals intended to hide their wrongdoings and accuse others. Members of rights groups, opposition parties, and even ordinary people, who have been arrested recently, were not involved in the Andijon events. They are not criminals."

Jahongir Mamatov, an Uzbek opposition activist living in the United States and the chairman of the Congress of Democratic Uzbekistan, said that after the Andijon uprising, Uzbek authorities resorted to the same method of mass repressions they have used many times in the past.

"Terrible repressions start after every big event," Mamatov said. "[President] Islam Karimov arranges [a demonstration or uprising] in order to suppress growing opposition. He then eliminates the society’s leading opposition forces. It’s his policy."

However, Mamatov said these tactics have not been enough to counteract the effect of the Andijon uprising. He said people are increasingly aware of the repressive nature of the Karimov regime.

The Andijon events prompted the United States and the European Union to call for an independent international inquiry. The EU earlier this month also introduced sanctions against Uzbekistan similar to those imposed on China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

(RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.