Uzbek Human Rights Activists Face Trials
Uzbek human rights activists are concerned that with President Islam Karimov's reputation at an all-time high for his efficient cooperation with international humanitarian organizations during the recent refugee crisis with Kyrgyzstan, the usual harassment of human rights advocates at home is being ignored.
Some activists fear that under cover of his newly-burnished reputation -- even if deserved for his temporary housing of those fleeing pogroms in Kyrgyzstan -- the president has sanctioned a concerted crackdown on his domestic critics. It's too early to tell whether there are more court cases than usual in violation of basic international standards for freedom of speech and association, but they have continued steadily in recent months.
This month a Tashkent prosecutor has launched a libel case against human rights activist Surat Ikramov, uznews.net and ferghana.ru report. Ikramov is head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan. The charges stem from a complicated case involving the death of a famous Uzbek singer, Dilnura Kadyrjanova (Qodirjonova). Ikramov's group made a statement about the case on February 26, 2008 on behalf of Kadyrjanova's family, expressing their concerns about her death.
Kadyrjanova, 31, an award-winning singer who had met President Karimov, was found dead hanging from the handle of a wardrobe in her Tashkent apartment on September 12, 2007. Her death was ruled a suicide by police. Kadyrjanova, mother of three, allegedly had a lover, Jamshid Matlyubov, said to be the father of her son. Matlyubov is head of Tashkent's Yakkasaray District Police Department, and the brother of Bahodyr Matlyubov, Uzbekistan's Interior Minister.
Ikramov represented the interests of the singer's parents and his statement was made on their behalf regarding their suspicions of foul play. Oktyabrhon Yusupova, mother of the singer, believes her daughter was murdered by her lover's wife and son and that the crime was covered up by police. These claims were covered by uznews.net in a story headlined, "Death of Uzbek Singer Still Covered in Mystery".
The children's nanny, Rene Metmuradova, and her husband, Atanazar Hudoybergenov, are now suing Ikramov and Yusopova for libel, saying their statements are distorted and inaccurate and are damaging to their reputation. They are asking for 10 million (US $4550) and 5 million sums ($2275) in damages, respectively.
Ikramov believes that the Yakkasar District police chief, Jamshid Matlyubov and his brother, Bahodir Matlyubov, the Uzbek interior minister, are behind the libel lawsuit, says ferghana.ru. The plaintiffs demand that the respondents prove the accusations they have made regarding Metmuradova and the daughters. Yet the original statement issued by Initiative Group about the case merely noted that the custody of Dilnura's daughters was transferred to their nanny, and not to their grandparents, and that the son was taken by his father -- facts they believed to be indisputable, ferghana.ru and uznews.net reported. The plaintiffs have also demanded the name of the author of the Uznews.net piece so that a case could be launched against that person as well.
Ikramov has denied the claims against him and sent a statement to the court saying that he believes third parties are interested in distraction from the true reason for the famous singer's death.
The Uchtepin District Court in Tashkent convened August 3 to hear statements from the plaintiff. Judge Bahrom Fayziyev initially did not permit observers, citing the size of the courtroom, but then Ikramov was able to gain entry for those who wished. Konstanin Stepanov, Metmuradova's lawyer, demanded that no recordings or notes be allowed by observers or journalists. In a 40-minute proceeding, Ikramov was accused of "conducting illegal human rights activities" and unspecified journalists were accused of publishing libelous articles. The trial has now adjourned until August 24.
On July 17, Ikramov was visited by Michael McFaul, Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. National Security Council . McFaul was part of a U.S. delegation accompanying U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg on an official visit to Uzbekistan. During their visit, the U.S. officials met with President Islam Karimov, Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and civil society leaders. Ikramov said at the time that he thought the visit to his home indicated that the Obama Administration would be paying greater attention to human rights issues.
Another Tashkent human rights activists, Anatoly Volkov of the Human Rights Alliance, is also now facing criminal court proceedings, uznews.net reports.
The case was opened on the basis of a complaint to the prosecutor's office by Viktor Konev, 90, a pensioner and former client of Volkov's at the Human Rights Alliance. Konev, who said he did not have money to pay lawyers, asked Volkov to help him launch a suit against a neighbor who built an extension on his home and blocked Konev's sunlight. While initially the district prosecutor took Konev's side and asked for the removal of the house extension, the court ruled only that the neighbors should pay $92 in damages and close the windows overlooking his courtyard.
Konev, who had not been able to attend court proceedings due to poor health and who had been represented by Volkov, blamed him for the failure to get the house extension removed and also accused him of accepting payments, a charge Volkov denies.
Vladimir Husainov, a colleague from the International Society of Human Rights Activists , said the pensioner was too poor to have made any payments, and had decided to blame Volkov for the failure to resolve his case. The authorities have accepted his complaint now because they are "settling scores," says Husainov, who said Vokov was the only person who publicly laid flowers at the Monument of Courage in memory of the 2005 Andijan victims. Yelena Uralyeva, head of the Human Rights Alliance, believe the government is seizing on the case to harass Volkov.
In yet another case, Tatyana Dovlatova, 54, a human rights activist who has been a frequent observer at criminal and civil court trials and has assisted people whose homes were demolished, has found herself the target of a criminal investigation. She and Vladimir Husainov have been monitoring foreign currency exchanges in an effort to expose corruption. On January 8, Dovlatova was beaten by currency sellers.
Investigators at the Khamzin District Police Department at first characterized her as a victim of assault, but then turned to charging her with "hooliganism." Dovlatova expected the investigator to visit her at home on August 2, with a translator to explain charges written in the Uzbek language, but he did not appear.
Another activist, Dmitry Tikhonov of Angren, has also been awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder related to what colleagues say is his attempt to expose local factory corruption and police collusion.
The evidence against all of these human rights activists is flimsy, says ferghana.ru, noting that witnesses have been coerced, or already cooperate with authorities.