Uzbek Rights Activists Entangled in Lawsuits

Uzbek Rights Activists Entangled in Lawsuits

A spate of court cases brought against human rights activists in Uzbekistan looks like a concerted attempt to sideline them.

On August 3, Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, appeared in a civil court to answer defamation charges.

The plaintiff is Atanazar Khudoibergenov, the husband of a woman who worked as a nanny for Dilnura Qodirjonova, a prominent Uzbek singer who died in 2007. Ikramov has been acting for the late singers’ parents, who dispute the official story that she committed suicide.

The lawsuit centres on a statement published by Ikramov in 2008, which Khudoiberdiev claims was offensive and damaging to him, although it does not mention him.

The statement said the cause of Qodirjonova’s death remained unclear, and questioned a decision to grant custody of her daughters to the nanny rather than to her parents.

Ikramov believes the Uzbek government has engineered the lawsuit as a way of getting at him indirectly.

“There’s a third party behind the lawsuit, individuals from the interior ministry,” Ikramov said. “I am certain they are hoping the legal action will kill two birds with one stone – deflect attention from the murder of Dilnura Qodirjonova, and intimidate me and other human rights defenders in Uzbekistan.”

Another rights defender in Tashkent, Anatoly Volkov, is facing prosecution under criminal law, in a case brought by a pensioner who alleges that he failed to defend him in court despite receiving payment to do so.

Volkov is accused of fraud, but has been denied access to the documents brought in evidence.

Like Ikramov, he believes the government has pressured the plaintiff into bringing the action instead of seeking an out-of-court settlement.

Other human rights defenders say the two lawsuits are politically motivated.

“The law-enforcement agencies are settling accounts with human rights activists,” Vladimir Husainov of the Human Rights Alliance said.

Rights defenders have continued working despite the repressive climate of surveillance, arrests and intimidation, and this is a source of irritation for the authorities.

According to one activist who asked to remain anonymous, the authorities have issued secret instructions to “decapitate” the human rights movement.

“Many of Ikramov’s and Volkov’s colleagues have paid for their work with their liberty,” he said, adding that Solijon Abdurahmonov, Azam Turghunov, and Aghzam Farmonov have been imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

“This process will lead to a situation where we’ll all either end up in prison or halt our human rights activities.”

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Human rights
Support our journalists