Authorities Targeting Uzbeks for Abuse in Southern Kyrgyzstan
First the violence, now the fear. Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan report that Kyrgyz authorities are rounding up Uzbek men without probable cause. Many of the arrests are taking place during the pre-dawn hours.
In some cases, Uzbeks say they are paying a ransom to secure their loved ones’ release. Several deaths in custody have been reported.
Those living in predominantly Uzbek areas of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, say they now dread the onset of night. “We have decided to guard our streets at night between about 23:00 and 05:00 so we can somehow try to put a live shield against the Kyrgyz military and police, who rush into our neighborhoods at night and take away our sons, husbands and brothers,” Minura, a 45-year-old Osh resident, told EurasiaNet.org. Like most sources discussing the ongoing ethnic tension in Osh, she asked her last name not be printed.
“They took away my husband about a week ago after searching our house. They said they found some bullets in our kitchen, but that was a pure set-up. My husband is a successful businessman, and he did not take part in any violent actions,” Minura said. “Later on, he was released after being badly beaten up. We ended up in paying 5,000 dollars for his release since they knew he was doing well and could pay good money.”
Local police officials deny such accusations. “There are no military sweeps, and there are no mass arrests,” Zamir Sydykov, the Osh police department’s press officer, told EurasiaNet.org. “When we receive information, we check individual houses and accordingly take certain actions. Information about mass abuses is just rumors circulating in the city.”
On July 14, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report detailing numerous arbitrary arrests in Uzbek neighborhoods in Osh Province, including severe beatings and torture. The report indicated that the ongoing abuse of ethnic Uzbek rights was occurring under the guise of an official investigation into the causes of the mid-June violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
HRW asserted that Uzbeks appeared to be “disproportionally targeted for detention.” The rights group went on to caution that “continued arbitrary arrests and widespread abuse, including torture, might further destabilize the already tense situation in southern Kyrgyzstan.”
“One law enforcement official interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that he was reluctant to arrest ethnic Kyrgyz, fearing that this may cause a new wave of violence. Police officials in two predominantly Kyrgyz neighborhoods told Human Rights Watch that they had no ethnic Kyrgyz in custody,” the report said.
Accounts that Uzbeks gave to EurasiaNet.org seemed to substantiate the HRW report’s assertions.
Dilshod, a 32-year-old ethnic Uzbek man told EurasiaNet.org that police kicked and punched him in the stomach until his urine was red with blood. He was also suffocated with a plastic bag, he said. “During the mass riots [in mid-June], I ran away from my neighborhood [in Osh], and stayed for over three weeks at my relatives in the outskirts of the city,” he said. “When I came back home on July 2, a group of Kyrgyz military took me away from my home at about 3 a.m.”
The armed men did not show any identifying documents, did not announce any formal charges against him, and did not process any paperwork, Dilshod said. “They threw me into a cell, which was full of Uzbeks, including very young kids aged 14 to 16. It was nightmare for us.”
Dilshod said they were given limited food and water, the cells were overcrowded, and prisoners were tortured during interrogations. “I was interrogated twice. They wanted me to admit that I killed several Kyrgyz and burned a couple of houses, but I denied it,” Dilshod explained. “I told them to talk to my father, who would give them anything they would ask for.”
He was held for several days until his father sold his car, using the money to secure his son’s release.
“One of the young men from our cell was beaten to death. His Kyrgyz torturers didn’t believe him when he was pleading, saying his health was poor. His body was thrown out in one of Uzbek neighborhoods. The first thing I want to do is to leave this country,” he said.
US officials are raising concerns over human rights violations in southern Kyrgyzstan. "The Kyrgyz government's main long-term task at the moment is to ensure among the population in the South the atmosphere for reconciliation, for which the rights of all citizens should be protected," Michael McFaul, the Obama administration’s senior adviser on the former Soviet Union, said on July 14, the Interfax news agency reported.
Bishkek agreed on July 15 to allow an international investigation into the June ethnic violence, though details of how and when the probe will be conducted remain to be defined. Local observers, both Kyrgyz and Uzbek, doubt Bishkek’s own investigation will be transparent and fair.
“I don’t believe our authorities are able to conduct proper and honest investigations of the tragic events here in Osh and Jalal-abad,” Elmira, an ethnic Kyrgyz teacher, told EurasiaNet.org. “And I am sure they will not allow foreigners to implement an open and unbiased investigations, be they from the OSCE, the UN, or any other international organization.”