Accessibility links

Breaking News

Uzbekistan: New Arrests In The Government's Old Battle Against Dissent

Repression in Uzbekistan has increased since the events in Andijon in May 2005 (epa) Two Uzbek human rights activists were arrested in the country's southern Sirdaryo region on April 29 and charged with extortion. Azamjon Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov, activists from the unregistered Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), published a report on the abuse of farmers' rights before they were detained. Authorities labeled the men "pseudo-rights activists." The HRSU says the arrests are politically motivated and are the latest in a wave of government attacks on human-rights activists.

PRAGUE, May 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Police made three visits to the Farmonov's house on the morning of April 29. The first two times they did not have an arrest warrant and had to leave after threatening to confiscate the Farmonov's computer. An HRSU member, Bakhtiyor Hamroev, who arrived at the Farmonov house after the police's first visit, tells RFE/RL about the police's final visit.

"Some 30 people came in -- just like assailants -- through windows and doors, almost breaking them," he said. "There was such a mess. They strangled me, beat up Tolib [Yoqubov, the HRSU head]. [Farmonov's] wife was also beaten up."

Dozens of human-rights activists have been arrested in the aftermath of Andijon. The government has also targeted peaceful Muslims as well as foreign nongovernmental groups.

Farmonov's arrest was an awful experience for his pregnant wife, Hamroev says.

"The most tragic part was that Azamjon's wife, Ozoda, who was expecting a baby, was hit and fell down and fainted. None of [the police] paid attention to that, several of them stepped on her belly. It was awful, awful!"

Farmonov's wife was rushed to the hospital as Farmonov and his colleague, Alisher Karamatov, were detained.

'Pseudo-Rights Activists'

Uzbek media reported, based on interviews with an unnamed source at the Uzbek Interior Ministry, that Farmonov and "his accomplice," Karamatov, were charged with extortion. Reports said the two men were "pseudo-rights activists" who tried to politicize the criminal case against them.

The pro-government website reported that Farmonov and Karamatov were arrested while attempting to blackmail the director of a petroleum storage depot and the head of a local hospital, about whom they claimed to have some compromising material.

The website also quoted an unnamed police official who said that Farmonov has admitted his guilt to blackmail and of having received money.

The police official reportedly said that the case was purely criminal and dismissed "attempts by rights groups to present it as a politically motivated persecution."

The HRSU members, however, insist the case is politically motivated.

The Plight Of Uzbek Farmers

Hamroev says he believes the real reason for the arrests is the investigation of farmers' rights in the southern Jizzakh region and a subsequent report that the two activists recently published.

"Alisher Karamatov and Azamjon Farmonov monitored the situation regarding farmers' rights in the Zamin district after some farmers from the Jizzakh region came to them [with complaints]," he said. "Results of their monitoring have already been published on the Internet."

Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest producers of cotton. Authorities force farmers to grow cotton and sell it to the state at a price below the market price.

In recent years, Jizzakh has become known for its conflicts between authorities, particularly Governor Ubaydulla Yamanqulov, who is reported to have personally beat up farmers if they refused to follow his orders.

In the past, farmers protested against the governor's brutality and demanded his resignation. Recent unconfirmed reports suggest Yamanqulov has fled the region and is seeking asylum in Russia.

Hamroev says the two activists conducted an investigation into complaints by farmers that the director of the state-owned petroleum depot was only giving farmers half the fuel he owed them. In the report, "Farmers from Hell," the authors also explained how the government has violated the rights of cotton growers in Jizzakh.

Charges of blackmail have been used against rights activists in the past.

The HRSU's chairman, Tolib Yoqubov, says that in recent years several other members of his group have been jailed from six to 10 years on similar charges.

"Six members have been arrested on charges of extortion; it's Article 165 of the Criminal Code," he said. "Four of them are serving prison terms. [Farmonov and Karamatov] are the fourth and the fifth members. It became an ordinary thing to arrest people based on extortion charges."

After Andijon

Uzbek authorities have stepped up the crackdown on dissent following the May 2005 uprising in the eastern town of Andijon, which was violently put down by government troops and resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Dozens of human-rights activists have been arrested in the aftermath of Andijon. The government has also targeted peaceful Muslims as well as foreign nongovernmental groups.

Among the most recent victims are the American Bar Association (ABA) and Counterpart International.

An Uzbek court ordered the closure of the ABA's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative on April 27. Uzbek authorities accused the Washington-based group of conducting activities that violated the ABA's charter, which includes "helping unregistered organizations, establishing and assisting local nongovernmental organizations."

The ABA-CEELI's appeal is under consideration. "If the appeal is unsuccessful, the proceedings will bar ABA-CEELI from maintaining an office and operations in Uzbekistan," the group's statement said on April 28.

Meanwhile, Counterpart International, a Washington-based organization, was also accused of providing assistance to local NGOs, Uzbek media reported today.

The Uzbek government began its campaign against foreign NGOs after Georgia's Rose Revolution in late 2003, and stepped up its campaign after the Andijon events. Activities by the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute, the Internews media group, the Eurasia Foundation, Freedom House, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), as well as the UN agency for refugees have been barred or suspended.

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

Aftermath Of Andijon

Aftermath Of Andijon

A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.


An annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions.