Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Farmer Abuse Claims

Authorities appear to be trying to silence people attempting to draw attention to alleged beatings.
By Khumoyun Rasulov

A number of people involved in publicising apparent ill-treatment of Uzbek farmers by a local official claim they have since been subject to government intimidation.

The Uzbek authorities have played down an August 17 incident in which the khokim, or mayor, of the Jizak region, Ubaidulla Yamonkulov, reportedly physically and verbally abused 32 farmers and forced them to sign documents surrendering their land.

Journalists and human rights activists who’ve tried to look into the alleged abuse say they’ve since been followed. And farmers who protested about it have apparently been detained by state security services.

Marvara Artykova, head of a farm known as Shafoar-ona, told IWPR what happened on August 17.

At 5 am local time, she said, police began knocking on doors and asking farmers to leave their houses immediately with all their documents.

The farmers and their families gathered in the small hall of the regional administration where they were surrounded by around 60 police and high-ranking officials, including head of the Jizak interior department Bokhodyr Kurbanov, his deputy Akhmad Yakhshilikov and another senior municipal official Komil Kobirov.

Yamonkulov arrived at 10 am and addressed the farmers, ordering them to increase their cotton production. Artykova said Yamonkulov’s demands would have required her to almost double her output to 26 tonnes a year.

“The farmers began expressing their discontent, and that’s where it all began. The khokim began cursing and threatening everyone, and then he started beating the farmers,” she said.

Sunat Buriev, head of the Sunnat Hoji farm, said many of those present were subjected to beatings but Yamonkulov was particularly rough with head of the Sunny Jizak farm Orif Sadriddinov.

“The khokim beat him all over his body with his fists, and when he gave him a strong kick the farmer fell down. The khokim stood on him and kicked him, swearing all the time,” Buriev told IWPR, adding that after he had finished with Sadriddinov, Yamonkulov moved on to another farmer, grabbing his head and bashing it against the table.

When he was sure that the assembled men and women were sufficiently scared, the police began to hand out pieces of paper so they could write statements giving up their land, Buriev said.

Witnesses reported that some victims were beaten so badly they required medical assistance.

The next day the 32 farmers submitted statements to the heads of local administrations, surrendering a total of 1,842.2 hectares of land with cotton plants that had just started to bloom.

According to Uzbek law, land leased from the state. Jizak human rights activist Mukhitdin Kurbanov told IWPR that after giving land to the farmers, the local authorities have probably changed their mind and decided that they would prefer to take it back and distribute it to their friends and relatives.

Following the August 17 incident, a number of the farmers wrote a collective letter to Uzbek president Islam Karimov, protesting about the incident.

“The farmers could not endure being forced to give up their land,” Mukhitdin Kurbanov told IWPR. “This is the most frightening thing that can happen to a farmer – they now have nothing to lose.”

But speaking out apparently served only to provoke more trouble.

According to the Jizak human rights organisation Ezgulik, on September 16 National Security Service, NSS, officials summoned Arif Kholmuradov, one of the farmers who had initiated the protest letter. Kholmuradov’s family and friends say he is yet to return from the meeting.

There are reports that at least two other farmers were called to the NSS offices. But IWPR has been unable to confirm what has happened to any of the three.

Journalists and human rights activists involved in investigating the beatings also told IWPR that they have been followed.

Journalist Yusuf Rasulov said that since visiting the Jizak region between September 12 and September 14 he has been constantly trailed around Tashkent by a car with no number plates.

The incident in Jizak is far from being the first time that local officials in Uzbekistan have resorted to assault and verbal abuse in dealing with their subordinates.

Khurshida Togaeva, who works on a farm in the Pakhtakor region, told IWPR that she was present at a meeting in the local mayor’s offices on August 9 where police handed out sheets of paper and forced farmers to write statements giving up their land.

“When we started protesting, the mayor ordered the police to seize all 30 of us and we were handcuffed and taken to the local interior department,” she told IWPR.

At the police department, police chief Olim Avlyakulov is said to have spoken to each farmer personally. When they refused to surrender their land, the police allegedly threatened to plant drugs on them. Togaeva says she finally gave in at 3 am and just over a week later received official notification of a decision to accept her 20 hectares of land.

Despite the reports, officials deny that anything unlawful took place at the August 17 meeting.

“These are all just stupid made-up stories,” said Kobirov. “Someone wants to increase political tensions before the parliamentary elections.”

Deputy mayor of the Jizak region Botir Turaev says the farmers gave up their land because many of them had broken farming regulations. “The confiscation of land is being carried out on legal grounds,” he told IWPR.

And Jizak interior department head Bokhodyr Kurbanov, who farmers say witnessed the beatings by the mayor, said all the information that has leaked out about the incident is false.

“Khokim Yamonkulov is not stupid enough to beat someone up, especially in the presence of a crowd. He represents the government, and he is accountable to Tashkent,” he told IWPR.

Khumoyun Rasulov and Evgeny Zavyalov are the pseudonyms of IWPR correspondents in Jizak.

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