Akromhoja Muhitdinov (fourth from left), 59, died on July 25, in the ambulance taking him to hospital. His wife says he was set upon by three individuals who assaulted and abused him. He was then stabbed him several times. Prosecutors in Yangiyul district have launched a criminal case and are questioning eyewitnesses.
Other members in Uzbekistan’s beleaguered human rights community believe this was no random attack, and that Muhitdinov was deliberately targeted for his work.
“We cannot rule out that this tireless campaigner for human rights and justice had become an irritant to the authorities and other corrupt individuals,” said Yelena Urlaeva (right), leader of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, the group with which Muhitdinov worked. “This provocation, and the murder of Akromhoja, were clearly deliberate.”
Urlaeva and her family have also faced harassment for her human rights activities.
Uzbekistan is one of a number of former Soviet states, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Russia which “have taken steps—some brutal, others more subtle—to adapt to new circumstances and maintain power,” according to a recent report from Freedom House. But in this case, local activists suggest, the regime has resorted to traditional Soviet-style tactics of brutal intimidation.
Local and international rights groups have documented numerous cases of attacks on dissidents and human rights defenders by assailants acting as proxies for the security service, News Briefing Central Asia notes:
Active in the human rights sector from 2006, Muhitdinov monitored the use of child labour on cotton plantations, which resulted in a number of physical attacks on him. He also defended farmers’ rights, and only days before his death he announced that a group of Yangiyul residents whose lands had been seized had won their case in court.