Concerns Over Uzbek Crackdown

Families and activists are concerned at heavy-handed attempts to catch those suspected of involvement in the Tashkent attacks.

Concerns Over Uzbek Crackdown

Families and activists are concerned at heavy-handed attempts to catch those suspected of involvement in the Tashkent attacks.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Allegations of planted evidence and unlawful detention have accompanied the Uzbek authorities’ investigations into the attacks which rocked the republic in late March and early April.

Human rights activists and the families of the detained are crying out for answers some six weeks after an unknown number of people were arrested in police swoops across the republic.

The lack of any information about how many people have been arrested, what they are charged with, and where they are being held, has led to growing fears that the detainees may be tortured or denied access to legal representation.

Activists claim that several hundred people – possibly as many as a thousand – have been arrested as police try to identify those responsible for shootings and apparent suicide bombings, mostly in the capital Tashkent, which in the space of four days left 47 people dead, 33 of them said to belong to an as yet unidentified Islamic group.

The Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, IGIHRU, a human rights group led by Surat Ikramov, has received more than 200 letters from all over the country with complaints about unlawful arrests and violations of rights.

Many are suspected of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a banned Islamic party, even though it is far from clear whether the Uzbek authorities really believe the group had any involvement in the violence.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir links are not the only grounds for detention. Ikramov said police are also detaining anyone suspected of contact with the young women who carried out the suicide bomb attacks in the Tashkent market.

The family of 20-year-old Severa Azimova from Tashkent are still waiting for news of their daughter after she was called to the Chilanzar police department on April 4 and placed under detention.

According to her father Najmitdin, the young woman fell under suspicion after making several phone calls to her friend Shahnoza Inoyatova, who is believed to have been involved with the Tashkent bombers. “Police checked all the calls received by the family during the time of the attacks, and arrested Severa,” Azimov told IWPR.

Almost two months after their daughter’s arrest, the family claim they have still not been allowed to see her or even send her a parcel. In addition, they claim that the police advised them against hiring a lawyer, promising instead that the state would provide one.

“We only know that Severa is in Tashkent prison,” added her father Najmitdin sadly.

The family of 25-year-old Nilufar Haidarova, who was arrested on April 5, have also spent the past few weeks nervously waiting for news. Their worry is exacerbated by the knowledge that Nilufar has cervical cancer, and may suffer a relapse without special care and medication.

Nilufar’s mother told IWPR that her daughter has been battling the disease for many years, and had had to undergo a hysterectomy when she was only 21. A course of chemotherapy had little effect, but the family say her illness went into remission after she became more devout.

In 2003, she married a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member who was serving a jail sentence alongside her brother Rahim – one of two siblings currently imprisoned for membership of the organisation. Nilufar’s mother believes that her daughter has been detained for these reasons alone.

IGIHRU head Ikramov believes that Nilufar could well have come into innocent contact with some of the young women suspected of planning or carrying out the attacks, as she attended the same Arabic course at Tashkent’s Egyptian Embassy as Shahnoza Holmuradova, who is accused of being one of the market bombers, and who has been missing ever since. Shahnoza’s sister Dilnoza apparently detonated a similar device, killing herself and two policemen.

In spite of repeated requests for information about the detained from families and human rights organisations, the Prosecutor’s Office of Uzbekistan has kept silent on the subject for more than six weeks.

But Oleg Bichenov, head of a Tashkent internal affairs anti-terrorism department, told IWPR that the human rights activists’ estimates of the number of detainees are grossly exaggerated, and their claims of human rights violations are unsubstantiated.

“All the rights of the detainees are upheld, each is given a lawyer and provided with everything required by law,” he said.

Still waiting for news of her ill daughter, Lidia Haidarova said, “The only right I have is the right to sit outside the gates of city police HQ for an entire month and wait for even half a word about my daughter.”

Tolib Yakubov, secretary general of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, told IWPR that the Uzbek law enforcers have been fighting extremist groups for many years, using methods that many international observers would describe as suspect.

“Arrests are conducted with indirect grounds for suspicion, there are cases when material evidence was planted in detainees’ houses, their rights are violated, and they are beaten and tortured,” Yakubov alleged.

“Dozens of members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir organisation have once again been placed under arrest - including those who were amnestied and released just recently,” he added.

Yakubov believes that the Islamic group was targeted simply because the police need to show results. “The police need numbers [of arrests] to demonstrate the effectiveness of their investigations. That explains the [re-]arrests of Hizb-ut-Tahrir members - the police know exactly where to find them,” he said.

At least 13 members of the banned organisation, many of whom had been freed just a couple of months earlier, were arrested in Margilan in the Fergana valley immediately after the explosions.

Ahmatjon Madumarov, a Fergana-based representative of the Independent Human Rights Organisation of Uzbekistan, IHROU, told IWPR that several people had been arrested in Margilan, many of whom had only recently been amnestied. Nine others were detained three days later.

“Today, nearly two months after the arrests, their relatives still have no information about their fate,” he said.

Relatives of those arrested in Margilan told IWPR that they firmly believe that their loved ones are innocent – and accused the police of fabricating charges and planting evidence.

Pensioner Muazzam Ulmasov said that two of his nine children had been imprisoned for Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, but that one, Bahodir, had recently been amnestied and released. However, following the Tashkent explosions, the police hurriedly re-arrested him.

“The next day a search was conducted in our house and they found some ammunition. We didn’t have any – but the police set it all up,” he claimed bitterly.

In Tashkent, Bichenov denied that Hizb-ut-Tahrir had been targeted. “We are not arresting Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in relation to the explosions,” he said. When IWPR told him about the arrests in Margilan, he replied, “I am not responsible for Fergana.”

Madumarov claims that evidence is often fabricated, and told the story of how one woman caught a policeman red-handed as he was in the act of planting a firearm in her house.

“The woman literally caught the policeman by his hand while he was hiding a pistol and she started screaming and calling for help - there are many people who witnessed that shameful episode.”

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