Uzbek Human Rights Activist Fined for Helping Workers
An Uzbek human rights activist who tried to help some struggling day workers claim their rights wound up with a hefty fine and accusations from the anti-terrorism police that he had "incited a riot," the independent Uzbek web site uznews.net reported.
Tashkent activist Abdullo Tojiboy-ogli told uznews.net that he was contacted by a day laborer concerned about his fellow workers' loss of their residence permits in Tashkent. Tojiboy-ogli was familiar with the issue, and knew that such laborers were often forced to pay bribes to police to avoid expulsion from the city for failure to produce temporary permission to reside in the capital, a Soviet-era requirement still in force today.
Tojiboy-ogli went to meet the man and his friends at a labor exchange, and found himself surrounded by about 400 people desperate for legal aid. He began to tell the workers about their rights and how to write appeals to the authorities, when the labor exchange manager and a policeman arrived on the scene and accused Tojiboy-ogli of fomenting rebellion. The human rights activist denied the charges and explained that he was only trying to help the workers defend themselves, but several other officials were summoned, including agents from the anti-terrorism units of both the city and the district and the local government, and he was arrested.
Tojiboy-ogli was taken to the Khamzin district police precinct and held until evening, when he was delivered by police to Khamzin criminal court. When he tried ask the judge to be allowed a lawyer and see the charges made against him, he was taken to another judge who ignored his requests and summarily fined him 70 minimum wages for "unauthorized organization of a street rally," which amounts to approximately 3.5 million soums or about $1,458 at the black market exchange rate. Tojiboy-ogli has already racked up similar fines for his human rights protests, and now owes about $6,000. Nevertheless, he says if asked for help, he would do it again. "My conscience is clear, I haven't done anything illegal and have not incited the people to do anything wrong," he told uznews.net.
Uzbekistan's day labor exchanges have been filling up with people looking for work as many migrant laborers have been forced to return from abroad with the downturn in the global economy. The Uzbek German Forum for Human Rights estimates that there are about one million itinerant laborers, or mardikory as they are known, in Tashkent.
While business has picked up somewhat and people still go abroad in search of seasonal work, they face many difficulties and work in poor conditions. In Russia, Uzbek workers earn about 13,310 rubles a month, less than half of what Russians do and about 3/4 of what Vietnamese workers are paid, according to a study from the Vesco Construction Group, ca-news.org reported. But that might be three times the salary they could make at home. Uzbeks are valued as hard workers who can speak Russian and are willing to take less pay, Vesco commented.
WikiLeaks recently published an alleged cable from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow dated February 17, 2010 which quoted Uzbek and Russian officials stating that between two and three million migrant workers, both registered and illegal, work in Russia, and send home remittances of approximately $3 billion a year, down 10-20 percent from their peak before the economic crisis.