Uzbek Police Foil Opposition Meetings

Uzbek Police Foil Opposition Meetings

Wednesday, 10 February, 2010
An attempt by opposition activists in Uzbekistan to gather has ended in a series of arrests after police intervened to head them off.

In a statement issued on November 13, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch called on the Uzbek authorities to halt what it called a “new harassment campaign against political activists and human rights defenders”

“Since November 7,” the statement said, “local authorities in six locations have detained at least seven activists and beaten three of them, one of whom sought hospital treatment.

“The campaign apparently was intended to keep the activists from meeting with Choriev and Iskhakova,” said Human Rights Watch, referring to Birdamlik leaders Bahodir Choriev and Diloram Iskhakova.

On November 11, police in Jizak beat up Birdamlik members who had come to meet their leaders.

“Initially, my brother and I, with our movement’s coordinator in Uzbekistan, Dilorom Iskhakova, were going to the Fergana Valley,” Choriev told NBCentral Asia by phone. “On the way, we decided to stop in at Jizak. We made plans to meet human rights activists Mamir Azimov and Bakhtior Hamroev at the Ghani teahouse in the town centre.”

Local police were aware of the plan, and one of them called Azimov on the phone and asked him to come outside the teahouse.

“Azimov went out and the police started questioning him and then beat him up,” said Choriev. “When I, Dilorom Iskhakova and Bakhtior Hamroev rushed outside, the law-enforcement officers started hitting Hamroev in the face and pushing Iskhakova and me into our car. They started threatenening me and my brother Botir, who was at the wheel of the car.”

Following that incident, the opposition leaders went on to Samarkand and other regional centres, where police also prevented them from gathering.

Choriev arrived in Tashkent on October 16, after living in the United States as a political refugee since 2004. He announced that he would return to political life in Uzbekistan, hold a Birdamlik congress, and monitor the forthcoming parliamentary election. (See Uzbek Opposition Party Leader Makes Surprise Return.)

Rights activists and opposition members say the attempt to galvanise support was foiled by the authorities.

“The movements of the opposition group leader were being tracked by the security service,” said Abdujulil Boymatov of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.

Iskhakova, who headed Birdamlik while Choriev was out of the country, told NBCentral Asia that members felt “badly humiliated and crushed”, and now harboured few hopes of being able to do anything productive.

“The beatings and humiliations meted out by police confirmed yet again that the authorities won’t tolerate anyone else’s views,” she said

Muhammad Solih, who heads the Erk party from exile in Turkey, said it was “crazy” to try to conduct political activity openly.

“I have been in exile for 17 years now and I know that any opposition leader who returns to Uzbekistan is risking his life,” Salih told NBCentralAsia. “They will be arrested or killed. As long as [President Islam] Karimov is in power, no opposition figure will be able to operate inside the country,” said Solih.

The Uzbek authorities have fought to crush all forms of opposition since the early Nineties, when the leaders of Erk and another group, Birlik, were forced to leave the country. There are no legal opposition parties.

(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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