13.3.17

Despite releases, conditions remain dire for civil society in Uzbekistan

https://monitor.civicus.org/
On the basis of information provided by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and its partner the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), the global CIVICUS Monitor initiative has published an overview of the current state of civil society in Uzbekistan. This overview discusses the conditions faced by citizens who attempt to associate with one another, protest peacefully, communicate freely through the media and undertake human rights activism in the country. It highlights the continued dire conditions for civil society engagement in the country, despite a number of recent releases of government critics:

Expression

Article 29 of the Uzbek Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the right to seek and disseminate information, as well as freedom of the press; however, the Uzbek authorities have maintained tight control over the media and independent voices. The country currently ranks 166th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

The government has a well-established mechanism for curtailing freedom of expression. The authorities have used surveillance against human rights activists, independent journalists and government critics who speak out and voice their opinion or opposition to government policy. Such individuals are routinely subjected to police interrogations, arbitrary arrests and prosecution as well as imprisonment on trumped-up charges.

Though President Mirziyoyev has mostly followed late President Karimov’s heavy-handed rule, several government critics imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds have been released in the past few months. In October 2016, human rights defender  Bobomurad Razzokov was released due to poor health, and a month later political activist, Samandar Kukanov, finally walked free after 24 years in prison. More recently, on 22nd February 2017, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Erk was released from prison. Fellow journalist, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, who was sentenced with Bekjanov, remains imprisoned after his sentence was arbitrarily extended in 2014 for allegedly violating prison rules. No news has been received about his condition for some time now. On 1st March 2017, independent journalist, Jamshid Karimov, nephew of the late President Karimov was released from the psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, where he had been forcibly and secretly held since 2006.

Though the release of political prisoners is a welcome development, many more remain under government control. Human rights defender  Shukhrat Rustamov was diagnosed by Tashkent City Court as being “mentally incompetent” in August 2015 after he sent numerous complaints on human rights issues to the Uzbek authorities. For the last two years, he has been at risk of forcible incarceration in a psychiatric hospital. On 1st March 2017, well-known and outspoken human rights defender, Elena Urlaeva, was detained by law enforcement authorities and forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic, without her relatives being informed.

Human rights activists’ monitoring and reporting on the forced labour used during the cotton harvest have come under particular pressure from the authorities. Activist  Uktam Pardaev was given a three-year suspended sentence in retaliation for his work monitoring the conditions of labourers during the harvest. Another activist working in the same field, Dmitry Tikhonov, was forced to flee the country in 2016 due to persecution.Uzbekistan still requires exit visas for its citizens to travel abroad, and authorities often withhold these visas to punish those critical of the regime. Uzbek citizens banned from travelling abroad in recent years include human rights activists Shukhrat Rustamov, Said Kurbanov, Elena Urlaeva and Uktam Pardaev.

Human rights defenders and critics who have fled Uzbekistan also face ongoing pressure and intimidation from the Uzbek authorities, and many have reported receiving threats of reprisals against their relatives still living in Uzbekistan.

Association

The Uzbek constitution ensures the right to freedom of association and a 2007 law protects the activities of non-governmental and non-profit organisations. This law also prohibits the government from interfering in the work of NGOs. Nevertheless, in practice, the right to freedom of association is strictly controlled and restricted by the government.

The authorities claim that there are over 6,000 NGOs operating in the country; however, an overwhelming majority of these are supported by or affiliated with the government. The few independent groups working on human rights issues continue to face serious obstacles, including cumbersome registration processes. While registration is mandatory, most of the few independent human rights groups in the country have been unable to get registered. The Code of Administrative Responsibility regulates NGOs and the authorities can fine and penalise domestic and international organisations that fail to obtain all the proper permissions to conduct their activities. In 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee criticised the “unreasonable, burdensome and restrictive requirements for registration and the other obstacles to the work of human rights NGOs” in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities strictly control the independent practice of Islam. Restrictive legislation on religion regulates religious clothing, the possession of religious literature and places mosques under the de facto control of the state. Over the past two decades, the state has arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of Muslims and key independent religious leaders who practiced their religion outside strict state control. In recent years, authorities have become increasingly suspicious of migrant labourers returning from abroad who may have had access to information on Islam which is censored or banned in Uzbekistan, resulting in an increased number of arrests and prosecutions for alleged “extremism.”

Peaceful Assembly

Article 33 of the Uzbek constitution and the Law on the Guarantees of Citizens’ Electoral Rights protect the right to participate in meetings and demonstrations, which the authorities can only prohibit if there are security concerns. In 2014, however, the government tightened its control over participation in such events by issuing a decree with the requirements and procedures for organising public events with more than 100 attendees, such as conferences, religious celebrations and cultural or sporting activities. Non-compliance with the required procedures is punishable by fines and detention of up to 15 days.

The country’s history of protest is marred by injustice and excessive force. To date, the Uzbek authorities have yet to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the events of 13th May 2005, when law enforcement and security forces indiscriminately fired at a crowd of protesters in Babur Square, Andijan. Demonstrators had peacefully gathered to voice their grievances over repressive government policies and economic hardships. According to officials, 187 people were killed, but unofficial estimates put the number at between 500 and 1500. None of the officials involved in the shooting have been brought to justice.

Within such a repressive environment, many citizens are fearful of the possibility that the government will again crack down on protests, and are therefore reluctant to participate in demonstrations. In January 2017, however, a group of elderly men and women took to the streets of Denov, a town in the southern Surkhondaryo Province, petitioning the government to issue their pensions in cash payments, rather than in debit cards.



22.2.17

Uzbekistan: Newspaper editor freed after being held for 18 years

On the photo: first minutes after release. Muhsmmad Bekjanov is speaking on the phone with his relatives. Muhammad Bekjanov (left) and his brother Jumanazar Bekjanov
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Freedom House, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) are extremely relieved to learn that Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov, the winner of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in 2013, was released today after 18 years in prison.

The onetime editor of what was Uzbekistan’s leading opposition newspaper, Bekjanov was one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists. Now aged 62, he was repeatedly tortured following his arrest in 1999 and his sentence was extended just before he was due to be released in 2012. According to initial information, he will not be allowed to leave the country for one year, which means he would not be able to join his US-based family during this period.

“We are delighted and relieved that Muhammad Bekjanov has been freed,” said the signatories. “It is tragic and deeply unjust that he spent so much time in prison just for doing his job. His release will not be complete until he is allowed to join his family in the United States.”

“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all other journalists and human rights activists who are unjustly imprisoned in Uzbekistan. Many of them have serious health problems. We are especially concerned about Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a colleague arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, as we have had no news of him for a long time.”

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to initiate a debate on such taboo subjects as the state of the economy, the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Karimov in the December 1991 election.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence outspoken critics by prosecuting them as accomplices to the attacks. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried in this way and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was arbitrarily given an additional sentence of four years and eight months in prison in February 2012, just a few days before he was due to be released.

Bekjanov has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment in prison and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time. In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. A few political prisoners including human rights defender Bobomurod Razzakov and politician Samandar Kukanov have been freed since Karimov’s death in August 2016. But many other journalists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and civil society representatives continue to languish in prison.



19.1.17

Statement about prosecution of human rights activists

The civil society organisations of Kazakhstan express deep concern about the pressure exerted on the International Legal Initiative Public Foundation, the Liberty Public Foundation and the Kadir-Qasyet Public Association, which resulted in an unscheduled tax audit in all three organisations, additional corporate income tax and fines. In this manner, the PF International Legal Initiative was additionally taxed for a total of about 1 million 300 thousand tenge (about $ 4 thousand), and PF Liberty was additionally taxed for about 3 million tenge ($ 9 thousand). The audit in the Kadir-Qasyet was suspended, rather than completed.

We consider the decision of the tax authorities to compel the non-profit organisations to pay corporate income tax to be illegally, since this contravenes Art. 134 of the Tax Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan concerning tax and other mandatory payments to the budget, which expressly states that the income of non-commercial organisations is exempt from taxation, provided that the conditions set forth are strictly observed, which the above mentioned human rights organisations did. In addition, the tax authorities are manipulating the concept of a "grant" contained in Art. 12 of the Code, using the long-standing problem of all Kazakhstani legislation, i.e. non-observance of the principle of international law about legal certainty and predictability, as well as a result of unclear definitions and the possibility of interpreting the norms of the law inconsistently. Decisions of the tax authorities concerning these organisations will be appealed in court.

Of particular concern to the civil society of our country is the fact that these audits are carried out on the basis of a statement, and in our opinion, a "denunciation" of a person who, after reading the publication on www.nur.kz website published on 11 July 2016 (https://www.nur.kz/1184969-skolko-inostrannye-fondy-tratyat-na-p.html), reckoned that human rights organisations could pose a threat to the stability of Kazakhstan. In this manner the state encourages denunciation in the spirit of repression of the 1930’s. Human rights and organisations that protect and promote them are the basis of stability, not a threat in any developed country.

The pressure on independent organisations of the civil society is in essence a prosecution for their human rights activities. In a democratic state upholding the law, it is impossible to prosecute human rights defenders for upholding human rights. Today, three organisations have been hit, and tomorrow entire civil society will find itself under a threat.

We call on the legal institutions of the country in full compliance with international obligations to protect the rights of independent human rights organisations to freedom of association, freedom from state interference in their affairs and, ultimately, human rights in Kazakhstan.

Signatures:

  • Non-governmental organisations of Kazakhstan
1. International Legal Initiative Public Foundation

2. Kadir-Qasyet Public Association

3. International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law of Kazakhstan

4. Liberty Public Foundation

5. Charter for Human Rights Public Foundation

6. Legal Policy Research Centre Public Foundation

7. Cleanliness at Home Public Foundation

8. Adil Soz International Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech

9. MediaNet International Journalism Centre

10. Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan Public Foundation

11. The Union of Crisis Centres of Kazakhstan Association of Legal Entities

12. Echo Public Association

13. Civil Expertise Public Foundation

14. Demos Public Association

15. Public Position Public Foundation

16. Zaman Public Association

17. Soros Foundation - Kazakhstan

18. Centre for Justice Public Association

19. Baikonur for Civil Rights Public Association

20. Leave Shelter for People - Pavlodar region

21. Aman-Saulik Public Fund

22. Foundation for Development of Parliamentarism in Kazakhstan Public Foundation

23. Legal Media Centre Public Foundation

24. Human Rights Monitoring Centre Public Foundation

25. Aktyubinsk Oblast Branch of Shanyrak NGO

26. The Vityaz Agency of Legal Information and Journalistic Investigations

27. Institute of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Kazakhstan Public Foundation 

  • International non-governmental organisations that support the statement
28. Representative office of Freedom House in Kazakhstan

29. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

30. Association for Human Rights in Central Asia




16.1.17

A citizen of Uzbekistan disappeared in the Crimea

Family of an Uzbek citizen, Murat Karimov, says that they no longer knows where he is.

Since January 2010, Murat Karimov has been living in Ukraine. On 29 December 2016, at 17:30, he called a friend in Kiev and said that he is crossing the border to get from the Crimea to Kiev. He promised to call back after he left the Crimea, but since then his whereabouts is unknown.

For about seven years, in the Crimea Mr. Karimov has been waiting for the UNHCR decision giving him a refugee status. After the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Centre for Refugees told him that his documents were lost due to force majeure and he has been for a long time looking for the opportunity to get into the jurisdiction of Ukraine. He vainly asked UNHCR to help him move to Ukraine.
Murat Nigmatovich KARIMOV was born on 13 July 1957, in Kokand, Ferghana region of the Uzbek SSR, he is Uzbek and has secondary education, he is married.
The authorities accuse him of involvement in Wahhabism (a religious movement banned in Uzbekistan). Previously, he was convicted. He was arrested in 2001 and convicted in 2002 by the Fergana Regional Court under Articles 159 (Attempts to Constitutional Order of Republic of Uzbekistan), 244-1 (Production and Dissemination of Materials Containing Threat to Public Security and Public Order), 244-2 (Establishment, Direction of or Participation in Religious Extremist, Separatist, Fundamentalist or Other Banned Organisations) and 276 (Illegal Production, Purchase, Storage, and Other Activities with Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances without Purpose of Sale) of the Criminal Code the Republic of Uzbekistan. He was sentenced to 12.6 years of imprisonment with serving his sentence in a high security penal colony. Murat Karimov was released in 2004 under an amnesty. Soon re-arrests of everyone who had been released began, and many were forced either to live in Uzbekistan hiding their whereabouts, or to leave for neighbouring countries. And as soon as Murat Karimov felt the threat of being arrested again, he decided to leave the country. In January 2010, he left Uzbekistan hiding his location from the Uzbek authorities.
In the autumn of 2016 in the presence of officers of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan home where Murat Karimov and his family lived was searched. They did not show their identity documents, but verbally presented themselves explaining the actions of the police officers as executing the in absentia judgment against Murat Karimov. However, his family could not find out whether there was the in absentia trial, and if so, what penalty was imposed against Mr. Karimov. Since then, the family had been subjected to pervasive harassment of the law-enforcement bodies, who extorted from all members of the family testimonies against Murat Karimov. And when they faced a threat of arrest, 10 members of his family left the country.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA urges the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearances to use the powers under their mandate to establish the whereabouts of the Uzbek citizen Murat Karimov, who is presumed arrested by Russia's de facto authorities in Crimea at the request of Uzbekistan, because he is in the wanted list of Uzbekistan.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA calls on the government of the countries in whose jurisdiction the citizen of Uzbekistan Murat Karimov currently is to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, including obligations under international agreements in the field of human rights, in particular:
 Protection against torture and other cruel treatment, as well as respect for human dignity;
 Respect for the principle of presumption of innocence;
 Ensuring freedom of religion, worship, rituals and etc.




16.12.16

Uzbekistan: Concern Mounts for Long-Imprisoned Journalist Moved into Solitary Confinement



Prison authorities in Uzbekistan have placed Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists, in solitary confinement, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) said today.

Bekjanov, 62, has been in prison for 17 years, and the move could be a sign that the government is preparing to extend his prison term yet again. He is in very poor health and his condition could decline rapidly in solitary confinement, the groups said. The Uzbek government and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev should ensure his immediate and unconditional release.

Muhammad Bekjanov’s solitary confinement is an ominous sign that causes us to fear that his health could deteriorate and that his sentence could be extended again,” said Nadejda Atayeva, the head of the AHRCA. “The international community must do everything in its power to save him.”

The onetime editor of what was Uzbekistan’s leading opposition newspaper, Bekjanov has been imprisoned since 1999. He was awarded Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Prize in 2013.

He is being held in Prison No. 48, in Zarafshon, in the central Navoiy region. When his brother, Jumanazar Bekjanov, tried to visit him there on December 13, 2016, prison officials said he was in solitary confinement and would not be able to receive a visitor until January 10, 2017. No one at the prison would say how long he had been in solitary or why he was being held there.

The sentences of political prisoners are often arbitrarily extended in Uzbekistan on the ground that they allegedly violated article 221 of the criminal code by “refusing to comply with the prison administration’s legal requirements.” These additional sentences are typically imposed on the basis of false testimony and without due process. Prisoners can be given successive sentence extensions that in practice amount to life in prison.

Bekjanov, who has a wife and three children, has already been a victim of this practice. He was given an additional sentence of four years and eight months in February 2012, just days before he was due to be released.

The Uzbek authorities have already stolen Muhammad Bekjanov’s health and 17 years of his life,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “How much more time will they continue to persecute this journalist, whose only crime was to have done his job in an honest and courageous manner?”

The groups also noted that an amnesty passed by the Uzbek senate on October 12 applies to prisoners over the age of 60 and should therefore be applicable to Bekjanov, who ought to be freed without delay. However, political prisoners have usually been excluded from the amnesties that have been issued in recent years.

“The immediate release of Muhammad Bekjanov and others imprisoned for the exercise of freedom of speech, would be a positive sign by the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, that he is looking to pursue reform and reverse Uzbekistan’s terrible human rights record,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It would show that Uzbekistan’s new leader is willing to end impunity for the abuses committed during Islam Karimov’s long reign,” added Brigitte Dufour, director of IPHR.

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to initiate a debate on such taboo subjects as the state of the economy, the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Karimov in the December 1991 election.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence outspoken critics by prosecuting them as accomplices to the attacks. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried in this way and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a fellow Erk journalist who was arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, is also still in jail.

Bekjanov has been repeatedly tortured in prison. He has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time.

In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks. He has refused to undergo an operation because operations in prison are usually carried out with no anaesthetic and little hygiene.

After repeatedly refusing to allow the lawyer appointed by his family, Polina Braunerg, to see Bekjanov, the prison authorities finally told her earlier this year that she needed to show a letter from him requesting her visit. But this is impossible because he does not know that she is acting as his defence lawyer.

Braunerg is herself now being harassed by the authorities. She has been constantly followed for the past two years or so, and has not been allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. At least nine other journalists are currently jailed in Uzbekistan connection with their work. Many opposition politicians, human rights defenders and other civil society representatives languish in prison, along with thousands of people arbitrarily accused of “religious extremism.”

Islam Karimov, who ruled Uzbekistan from independence until his death in August, was succeeded by former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev after an election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said was “devoid of genuine competition.”





29.11.16

Assets acquired by the ruling elite in Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in telecommunications sector should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption:

PRESS-RELEASE


29 November, 2016                                           Le  Mans, Berlin, Memphis 


OPEN LETTER OF UZBEK ACTIVISTS TO THE GOVERNMENTS OF BELGIUM, IRELAND, LUXEMBOURG, THE NETHERLANDS, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A group of Uzbek activists, including Nadejda  Atayeva, Umida Niyazova, Sanjar Umarov, Yodgor Obid, Alisher Taksanov, Ismail Dadadjanov, Dovudkhon Nazarov, Alisher Abidov, Mirrakhmat Muminov, Dmitry Tikhonov and Ulugbek Khaydarov, have called upon the governments of the USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg to support the case filed by the US Department of Justice to forfeiture $850 million, amassed by the ruling elite of Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in the telecommunications sector. Activists urge the governments not to return the assets to the Government of Uzbekistan, which is responsible for the offense, and to use these funds to redress for the victims of corruption, i.e. the people of Uzbekistan. An example of such fair repatriation of ill-gotten assets is the Bota Fund in Kazakhstan created out of “Kazakhgate” assets. If the Uzbek government doesn’t agree to create conditions for such a fund, these assets must be frozen into a trust accountable to the aforementioned governments and the civil society of Uzbekistan.

The full-text letter signed by activists is below and can be downloaded here. This letter should be considered only as a starting point – everyone, who wants Uzbekistan to embark on the path of reforms and become a country free of corruption, is invited to join and sign this letter. The collection of signatures is going on here.

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29 November, 2016                                                                                   Le Mans, Berlin, Memphis  


Assets acquired by the ruling elite of Uzbekistan as a result of the corruption scheme in its telecommunications sector should be confiscated and returned to the victims of corruption

OPEN LETTER OF UZBEK ACTIVISTS TO THE GOVERNMENTS OF BELGIUM, IRELAND, LUXEMBOURG, THE NETHERLANDS, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


We, the undersigned citizens of Uzbekistan, are writing to express our hope that the cases filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (No 1:15-cv-05063 of June 29, 2015 and No 1:16-cv-01257-UA of February 19, 2016), to forfeit the assets in the total amount of $850 million resulting from corrupt dealings in the telecommunications sector in Uzbekistan will succeed and the European states in whose banks these assets are frozen -- Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland -- will support these cases and take decision in the interests of the victims of corruption. While we have been forced to flee our homeland because of the risk of repression by the Karimov regime, we continue to participate in the public life of our country from exile.

We call on you not to return these assets to the government of Uzbekistan at this time because the government of Uzbekistan fails to address the issues of systemic corruption that is endemic to this government and fatally undermines the independence and integrity of the executive, legislature and judiciary.  After the death of Karimov, government authorities promised to reform the judicial system and adopt anti-corruption legislation, yet there is no reason to believe that the government will end the corruption that keeps it in power. Even during the reign of Karimov, the government adopted many good laws and signed and ratified a number of international conventions on human rights and against corruption. But in practice, the government has not implemented any of its laws or fulfilled its international obligations.

We believe that the proceeds from corruption should be used as redress for the people of Uzbekistan, truly the victims of state organized corruption.  Given the unlikeliness that the Uzbek government would agree to allow really independent disbursement of these funds in the near future, we call for the freezing of these assets into a transparent trust fund under international auspices accountable to key stakeholders, including civil society.

1. We are against the return of the assets to the government of Uzbekistan, which is among the most corrupt and repressive in the world.  In the annex you’ll find the summary describing the governance system and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan in support of this point. 

2. We also call on you to create a mechanism whereby the aforementioned assets can be used for the benefit of the people from whom they were stolen— the citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The loss they have suffered as a result of corruption should be compensated.

The amount subject to confiscation is significant, and would comprise a minimum 7% of the annual budget of the country. We propose to use the assets in question for the following purposes:

1) Fund for Compensation for Victims of Torture. We can and must consider those who have suffered torture as victims of political and state corruption, since torture serves the authoritarian rulers as a means to shield their shady dealings from public scrutiny and control. Torture is often used against those who criticize government corruption. Torture is also the most odious manifestation of the lawlessness and corruption in the judicial system of the country. We ask that a fund be created to assist torture victims, both those who remain in Uzbekistan as well as those forced to flee the country. Criteria for identifying torture victims can be taken from the published materials of human rights organizations, the UN Human Rights Committee and Committee Against Torture, the UN special procedures, as well as the materials used by the UN High Commission for Refugees and immigration authorities for evaluating asylum claims.

2) Educational and Health Care Programs for the most vulnerable social groups.

3) Economic Assistance Programs for impoverished groups such as micro-lending, infrastructure development, and small business services.

4) The creation of Corruption Prevention Mechanisms in Uzbekistan, that would promote transparency in government finance; reform the judicial system and law enforcement authorities; strengthen the independent legal profession; and establish effective anti-corruption bodies.

The main condition for implementing the charitable programs described above should be the non-interference by the Uzbek government in their administration.

A precedent for this already exists—the Bota Fund, established by a three-party agreement between the governments of the United States, Switzerland, and Kazakhstan, signed in 2007, and funded by assets from Kazakhgate” ($84 million paid to the president of Kazakhstan by a foreign company and seized from Swiss bank accounts). As you know, the fund supported programs to benefit impoverished children and its activities were accountable to its founders, as well as representatives of civil society and the World Bank.

The Bota Fund, in our view, serves as a successful example of the return of ill-gotten gains to benefit the victims of corruption without returning them to the government implicated in bribe taking. The fact that the fund was established with the participation of the government of Kazakhstan but without that government interfering or pressurising the Fund’s operations played a key role in its ultimate success. We hope very much that the government of Uzbekistan will agree to similar conditions for asset repatriation.

The charitable programs we proposed above should be accountable to the governments to which this letter is addressed, namely the governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden,  Switzerland and the United States of America, as well as to the representatives of civil society.

At the same time, we understand that even by comparison with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan presents an extremely unfavorable and difficult partner for implementing charitable projects like those carried out by the Bota Fund.

There are four main reasons for this:

1) If the Bota Fund implemented programs through allocating grants to local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that could provide assistance to the population, in Uzbekistan a functioning civil society as such does not exist. The majority of independent NGOs were destroyed between 2004-2007. For the most part, the organizations that are left are completely under the control of the government and their participation in a compensation and assistance project would violate the key principle of noninterference by the government.

2) The lack of freedom of expression, press, and association render effective independent monitoring of the activities of charitable projects impossible. The intolerance of, and harsh measures against independent observers would undermine the principles of transparency and accountability of a charitable fund, should one be established in Uzbekistan.

3) As noted above, during the period from 2004 to 2007, the government of Uzbekistan forced a range of international organizations out of the country, including Freedom House, The Eurasia Foundation, The Open Society Institute, and others. Human Rights Watch was also forced to close its office in 2011. The presence of these organizations in the country is vital for independent monitoring as well as for their support of domestic civil society. In other words, the successful implementation of the programs outlined above requires a favorable institutional and social operating environment.

4) Uzbekistan prohibits free currency exchange. Four different exchange rates exist. There is a significant difference between the official rate and the black market rate, which allows the government to manipulate this difference. Even if the government allows a charitable foundation to operate, it would first have to convert its funds into local currency at the low official rate, meaning the foundation would lose up to 50% of the value in the exchange.

While we acknowledge that a compromise with the Uzbek government regarding the creation of a charitable fund in Uzbekistan is necessary, we support such a compromise only in so far as it would include terms that would:
  • Remove or significantly reduce the barriers for freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association
  • Liberalize currency conversion policy in order to preserve the whole value of the assets for charitable programs.
  • Allow international nongovernmental organizations, especially those specializing in human rights and the fight against corruption to operate and receive accreditation in Uzbekistan.

3. Considering that the government of Uzbekistan is unlikely to agree to these conditions in the near future, the full amount of the assets or the majority should be held in a trust that is transparent and accountable to key stakeholders, including the governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA, as well as the Uzbek civil societyю. Such a trust could be established under the auspices of an international organization with the appropriate mandate, experience, expertise, and impeccable reputation. The trust’s assets could be fully unfrozen when Uzbekistan develops the appropriate conditions for using these funds to benefit all citizens and it’ll demonstrate political will to accept the Bota Fund like solution. 

The governments of Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America should act in interests of Uzbek victims of corruption. Doing so will also protect western businesses from falling into a trap of shadowy deals with corrupt Uzbek officials – and subsequently facing multi-million penalties for bribery and misleading  their shareholders.

Sincerely,
Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, resident of France, n.atayeva@gmail.com (contact person)
Umida Niyazova, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, resident of Germany, umida.niyazova@gmail.com  (contact person)
Sanjar Umarov, former political prisoner, US resident
Jodgor Obid, former political prisoner, poet, member of the International Pen-Club (Austria), resident of Austria
Alisher Taksanov, journalist, resident of Switzerland
Ismail Dadajanov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan, resident of Sweden
Dovudhon Nazarov, resident of Sweden
Alisher Abidov, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, resident of Norway
Mirrahmat Muminov, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, US resident
Dmitry Tikhonov, resident of France
Ulughbek Haydarov, former political prisoner, resident of Canada



ANNEX:   SUMMARY OF THE GOVERNANCE SYSTEM OF UZBEKISTAN AND THE STATUS OF ITS HUMAN RIGHTS

Corruption is systemic and systematic in Uzbekistan. In recent years, Uzbekistan’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has not risen above 153 of 168 countries. Corruption starts at the very top, as evidenced by the scheme to extract at least $850 million from telecommunications companies organized by Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of the former president.

This corrupt scheme has revealed the depressing reality in the Uzbekistan’s communications sector, including the complete lack of an open and transparent tendering process, which leads to the practice of issuing licenses in backroom deals. The state agency responsible for regulating the sector thus issued licenses to offshore companies with no experience running a business, with no reputation or even a staff, and allowed them to resell the licenses to international mobile operators in violation of Uzbek law. Since the corruption scandal of 2012-2014, the situation has not changed. Only Gulnara Karimova’s associates, who played rather a technical role in her corrupt schemes and under whose names the offshore companies were held, have faced prosecution, thus being held as scapegoats, while state officials who made decisions that lead to corrupt practices have walked away with impunity.

The situation has not changed under the new authorities. Untill now, licenses and frequencies allocation are still being allocated behind the scenes, beyond the law.

Furthermore, after the death of Karimov, the former chairperson of the National Agency for Telecommunications (now the Ministry of Development of Information Technologies and Communications) Abdulla Aripov, who personally authorized the allocation of licenses under the corrupt scheme and was discharged afterwards from his office, has evaded justice, and has now been restored to government posts.

Grand corruption in Uzbekistan is not limited to the telecommunications sector. It permeates other sectors of the economy too, especially the cotton sector, construction, trade and the sphere of currency exchange. Among the most corrupt government institutions are tax authorities, customs, judiciary, prosecutors’ offices, police and National Security Service.

The sphere of public finance as whole is completely non-transparent. Even parliament does not know the amount of revenue from major state-controlled exports including cotton, non-ferrous and precious metals, gas, and chemical products. Even more importantly, citizens do not know how these revenues are allocated. Insiders report that these revenues go not to the state budget but to extra budgetary accounts in the Central Bank that are controlled by President and a small circle surrounding him.

The systematic nature of corruption is also apparent in the country’s nascent private sector. Without an impartial judiciary and a transparent legal system, the business people can only operate either through clannish connections to government officials or by providing bribes to these officials.

The human rights situation is appalling, which is an integral part of the political and economic corruption in the country. According to all evidence, including the State Department’s human rights reports and information reviewed by the European Unions’ External Action Service, police routinely arrest people on false charges such as drug possession, tax evasion, and other serious offenses. In some instances these fabricated cases are politically motivated; in others, corruption motivated, when criminal prosecution is used as a means of extortion. Law enforcement authorities use intimidation, torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, to extract from detainees false confessions and statements incriminating others.

Based on personal experience and information from our colleagues, we can testify that torture has long been a routine practice by authorities in law enforcement structures and the prison system in Uzbekistan. The only representative of the UN Human Rights Council ever to have been able to visit Uzbekistan is UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment  Theo van Boven who, after his visit to the country in 2002, concluded that torture and other forms of cruel treatment in Uzbekistan are systematic. Since van Boven’s visit, no other UN special procedures on human rights have received an invitation to visit the country. In 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, “stressed that he continued to receive serious allegations of torture by Uzbek law enforcement officials”.

Uzbekistan has perhaps the largest state-sponsored forced labor system in the world. It systematically violates national law and conventions of the International Labour Organization that Uzbekistan has signed and ratified and which prohibit forced labor. Every year more than a million citizens are forced against their will and under menace of penalty to harvest cotton every year. This year, the US Department of State lowered Uzbekistan’s ranking in the annual Trafficking in Persons report to Tier 3, the lowest ranking for its persistent use of mass forced labor of adults in the cotton harvest.[1]  The situation hasn’t changed after the death of Karimov. As under the previous regime, Uzbekistan continues to be the country of labor slavery and complete disregard of its own and international laws on human rights.

The government systematically violates civil rights and freedoms, including the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. As under Islam Karimov, the real separation of powers is still non-existent, with all the power concentrated in the hands of an authoritarian ruler and his inner circle. The parliament acts as window dressing, rubber stamping legislation and decisions that are prepared by the presidential administration or the Cabinet of Ministers. Although judges are de jure independent, de facto they are subordinate to the executive branch, especially the heads of local administrations, the police, security services, and prosecutorial authorities, unconditionally carrying out whatever is dictated by the heads of these structures.

The defense bar is under the complete control of the government as represented by the Ministry of Justice and is not able to act on an equal footing with the prosecutor's office in the judicial process in order to protect the rights of defendants.

Intimidation of lawyers is frequent, particularly if they take up sensitive cases or cases that implicate the executive branch. As a result, lawyers refuse such cases or face the threat of losing their licenses. A number of lawyers are denied the right to leave the country, they are forbidden to speak at conferences without the Justice Ministry’s permission.

The judicial process is completely non-transparent. Neither law nor practice allows the open publication of indictments, verdicts, or other court material. Therefore society, as a rule, does not know why someone is sentenced, what are the arguments of prosecutor and defense. Judges ignore allegations of torture made by defendants and don’t proceed with respective medical examination. The court hearings on criminal cases are often held behind closed doors, with no access provided for the public and the press, especially if these are politically motivated cases.

Violations of human rights are closely linked with corrupt practices by government bodies. The police often arrest people and judges sentence them to prison to extort bribes. Just one recent example is the case of the arrest and fabricated case against the Ibodov brothers, entrepreneurs from the Bukhara region. The real reason for their arrest was the refusal by the brothers to pay bribes to law enforcement officials. One of the brothers, Rahim Ibodov, received a sentence of eight years in prison. The other, Ilhom Ibodov, died as a result of torture. The court ignored Rahim Ibodov’s allegations that he and his brother were severely tortured. The authorities refused to investigate the allegations and, in doing so, became accomplices in this crime.[2] 

The authorities also imprison and torture those who attempt to expose the government’s abuse of power. The journalist and human rights defender Dimurod Said, who exposed corruption in the Jambai district of the Samarkand region, was sentenced in 2009 to 12.5 years in prison, where he has contracted tuberculosis as a result of terrible conditions of detention.[3]

More than 30 civil society activists and journalists and thousands of practicing Muslims are behind bars on politically-motivated charges. Some of them will not be released alive or will be released with their health destroyed from torture and ill-treatment in prison.

Given this state of affairs, returning the proceeds of corrupt dealings by senior Uzbek officials to the government of Uzbekistan would be tantamount to returning it to the same people who stole it or are implicated in its theft.

It is guaranteed that any amount returned to the government of Uzbekistan would disappear into extra-budgetary and non-transparent accounts at the disposal of the ruling elite with no accountability to the public. It is also extremely likely that some of the funds would be used to strengthen the repressive apparatus, for covert operations against dissidents and critics of the abuse of power, including by paying criminals to carry out political assassinations of dissidents located outside the country.

One example of this practice of hiring criminals by the Uzbek security services was the attempted assassination in Sweden of the Uzbek refugee, and well-known imam Obidkhon Nazarov in 2012; [4] another such case is the murder of the journalist Alisher Saipov in 2007.[5]

Though President Karimov recently died, there is no reason to believe that his corruptly cultivated network of government officials responsible for keeping him in power for so long plan to operate any differently.

Despite the rhetoric heard from the new authorities that target the abuse of public office, we see all the same practice of violating the rights of citizens, that include the continuing practice of forced labor, arrests and beatings in custody of human rights defenders and journalists.

The return of the assets to the government of Uzbekistan would act against the interests of victims of corruption and encourage new criminal practice.  Such a turn of events would be greatly demoralizing to Uzbek society and also negatively affect the reputation of the governments in the US and Europe, who are declaring support to human rights and the fight against corruption. The entire world, including the people of Uzbekistan, closely watches the actions of these governments in these matters.

There are no adequate conditions for independent monitoring. There are a number of cases when Uzbek activists tried to carry out monitoring on various issues, for example of forced labor. These activists suffered serious reprisals from the government in retaliation for their activities, for example, human rights activist Uktam Pardaev was convicted on spurious criminal charges,[6] while Dmitrii Tikhonov, another activist, was beaten by police and had his home destroyed by arson,[7] which was evidently a response from the Uzbek authorities to their activity on monitoring the practice of forced labor.