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Uzbek Government Abuses Worsen

The government in Uzbekistan brooks no criticism of its human rights abuses.
By Galima Bukharbaeva

The authorities in Uzbekistan are attempting to cover-up their worsening human rights record by silencing its critics.


Human rights organisations, opposition parties and the media have all suffered at the hands of a government apparently determined to keep its abuses under wraps.


Dozens of reports of abuses are registered every day, ranging from unfair trials, arbitrary arrests and torture.


"The authorities in Uzbekistan want to silence those who talks of [human rights] infringements, to prevent any information leaking to the outside world," reads a report by the international campaign group, Human Rights Watch.


Violations by law enforcement agencies have often gone unpunished because of the government's muzzling of the press, according to the Chairman of the Independent Organisation for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, Mikhail Ardzinov. "State censorship means that articles critical of abuses cannot be published in the local press," he said.


Uzbekistan's opposition parties Erk (Freedom) and Birlik (Unity), which one might expect to expose human rights abuses, were effectively banned seven years ago, forcing them to operate underground.


Their founder Mohammed Solikh fled the country and was subsequently accused of masterminding a terrorist bombing in the Uzbek capital a year ago, in which 16 people were killed and 120 injured.


Several days after the attack, police arrested two of Solikh's brothers and four of his supporters. The defendants, who claimed they were mistreated and tortured while in custody, were convicted of involvement in the bombing and sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 15 years.


Like the opposition, human rights organization are deemed illegal and their members run the risk of the being jailed. Indeed, last summer, two members of the Independent Organisation for Human Rights, Makkhubba Kasymova and Ismail Adylov, were sent to prison for 5 and 6 years respectively. Human Rights Watch said the case was completely fabricated.


At about the same time, the militia confiscated the organisation's documentary archive along with all its office hardware.


Despite the clampdown on human rights organisations, they continue to receive dozens of complaints about government abuses on a daily basis. According to Acacia Shields of Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan, the bulk of the abuses are perpetrated by law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies.


The Uzbek authorities appear determined to continue employing harsh measures against those who think differently, targeting in particular illegal Islamic organisations it considers a threat to the security of the state. This, despite repeated appeals from international organizations.


That Muslim militants pose a danger was illustrated by the Tashkent bombings, however, Shields believes violations of human rights could also lead to insecurity. "The government of Uzbekistan must begin to observe human rights, the militia must be called into account," she says.


Shields says Human Rights Watch is pessimistic about future as the authorities have shown little sign of curbing their excesses.


The people of Uzbekistan, it seems, will remain vulnerable to state oppression, the militia and the security forces. The opposition and human rights organisations are at present prevented from coming to their defence and in future they may even cease to exist.


Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR's Project Editor in Tashkent.