Uzbek authorities yesterday released human rights activist Alisher Karamatov (right) from prison, after he completed almost two thirds of a nine-year sentence for politically-motivated charges.
An active member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan known for addressing “appalling” violations of socio-economic rights, Karamatov was detained in 2006 and held in a medical facility until January 2011 when he was transferred to a prison, according to the Paris-based International Human Rights Federation (FIDH).
“We are thrilled that Alisher Karamatov has been freed, but the crackdown on civil society undercuts any claim that Karamatov’s release represents true progress,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The US and EU should make clear that the Uzbek government needs to make deeper changes to improve its human rights record and that continuing to harass activists and journalists will lead to significant policy consequences.”
At least 10 human rights defenders, and numerous independent journalists and opposition activists remain in prison in Uzbekistan in retaliation for their work or criticism of the government. In recent months, the Uzbek government has further widened its crackdown on independent civil society, prosecuting rights activists and independent journalists on trumped-up charges, such as fraud or defamation. The government has arbitrarily detained and harassed those at liberty who have attempted peacefully to exercise their right to freedom of assembly………….. At the end of January 2012, just days before his 13-year prison sentence was set to expire, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor of the political opposition newspaper Erk, was given an additional five-year sentence for alleged violations of internal prison rules. Bekjanov has been jailed since 1999, and along with another jailed journalist, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, has been imprisoned longer than any other reporter worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Prison conditions in Uzbekistan are deplorable and torture and ill-treatment are systematic. In its December 2011 report “‘No One Left to Witness’: Torture, the Failure of Habeas Corpus, and the Silencing of Lawyers in Uzbekistan,” Human Rights Watch presented rare first-hand evidence of wide-scale human rights abuses in the isolated country, from which UN human rights experts have been banned for almost a decade.
Human rights defenders in prison for no reason other than their legitimate human rights work include: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Habibulla Okpulatov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov. Several are in serious ill-health and at least seven have suffered torture or ill-treatment in prison. Another activist, Jamshid Karimov, was reported to have been released in 2011, but is missing, prompting fears that authorities may have detained him or otherwise restricted his movements.
Karamatov and many other rights activists were swept up in the authoritarian regime’s crackdown following democratic breakthroughs in post-Soviet states.
“A major feature of the Uzbek government’s reaction to the democratic revolutions in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine was the inception of a number of new policies intended to curb international influence in Uzbekistan,” according to Karimov’s War, a report from Human Rights First’s Archana Pyati and Neil Hicks:
This involved strict control of donations from international organizations to domestic groups, requirements of registration for international organizations with offices in Uzbekistan, and restrictions on communications between domestic and international human rights groups and journalists. These measures were all taken with the stated aim of curbing the infiltration of international terrorist groups in Uzbekistan, although the intended target of these new restrictions include democracy promotion institutions [such as the] National Endowment for Democracy, as well as independent foundations that support independent Uzbek associations.