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

Uzbekistan: Activist Jailed After 'Sham' Trial

Human rights groups hit out at Uzbek authorities following jailing of activist.
By Galima Bukharbaeva

An Uzbek human rights activist has been sentenced to seven years in prison after a trial his colleagues claim was politically motivated and part of a campaign against observant Muslims.


Yuldash Rasulov, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, HRSU, and a father of two young children, was found guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order of Uzbekistan after last week's trial at the Yunus-Abad district court in Tashkent.


Judge Tolib Obidov also convicted him of producing and distributing materials promoting religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism that proved a threat to public security.


The conviction on September 17 came despite the trial's main prosecution witness Mokhammadjon Khalilov retracting statements he said had given under torture.


Activists say this and the authorities' failure to come up with concrete evidence against the defendant suggested exposed the trial as a sham. "All the charges against Rasulov are utter rubbish, not one of them was corroborated during the trial, and the sentencing was ordered politically," HRSU general secretary Tolib Yakubov told IWPR.


The international rights group Human Rights Watch agreed. "Rasulov should have been released," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of its Europe and Central Asia division. "The evidence didn't support the verdict in this clearly political case."


Rasulov's colleagues and members of his family maintain that he had been under surveillance since the 1999 car bomb explosions in the capital, which killed up to 16 people and were blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU.


The rights activist's sister Khakima Rasulova told IWPR, "My brother prays five a times a day and this drew the attention of policemen in 1999. After the Tashkent explosions, they began checking all religious people for possible links with the IMU and other Islamic organisations. But they had no proof that he was connected to extremists."


Human Rights Watch said the case against Rasulov, who was arrested in May, arose when the interior ministry arrested Khalilov, a Tashkent resident, earlier in the year. Khalilov gave evidence against Rasulov, claiming that he was involved in recruiting young people in Uzbekistan to be sent to IMU camps in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.


Rasulov denied claims that he was a member of banned Islamic movement or that he was connected to the IMU. He only acknowledged the fact that he was a religious person and observed all the requirements of Islam.


The indictment against Rasulov stated that from 1995 he had been a member of the Wahhabi movement and had been in contact with two of its spiritual leaders, imams Obid-kori Nazarov and Abduvali-kori Mirzaev, who vanished without trace several years ago.


It said he had also been in indirect contact with IMU leaders Takhir Yuldash and Juma Namangani, who are accused of organising the Tashkent bombings and armed raids into Uzbekistan between 1999 and 2001.


The indictment alleges that in 2001 Rasulov had made arrangements for people to travel from Uzbekistan to IMU camps in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It also claims he was responsible for disseminating Wahhabi ideas in the south of the republic, for which it alleged he was paid more than 100 US dollars.


Despite the lack of direct evidence of Rasulov's guilt and the main witness' retraction of his earlier testimony, the defendant was sentence to seven years.


Before Rasulov's final plea could be heard, the judge ordered police to evict correspondents from IWPR, the Associated Press, France Press and Radio Liberty from the court.


After hearing the plea, the judge retired to his chambers, returning just 15 minutes later with a ten-page verdict, which appeared to have been drawn up in advance.


Rasulov is the eighth HRSU member to be imprisoned in Uzbekistan, and there are very real fears for his safety. Shavruk Ruzimuradov, head of the Kashkardaria branch of HRSU, was killed under torture in the basement of the internal affairs ministry in July 2001.


"The sentencing of Rasulov in the absence of any real evidence is a clear demonstration that the democratic rhetoric of the country's leadership is just empty words and promises," said Yakubov, adding that the authorities had effectively neutralised a courageous activist who had monitored violations of human rights and gave legal aid to its victims.


Elizabeth Andersen of Human Rights Watch said, " It's clear that this was an attempt to isolate him; stop him documenting human rights violations, and silence other activists."


Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan