Uzbek Human Rights Defender Released from Prison on Eve of Clinton's Visit
Human rights activists were wondering if any political prisoners would be released when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Tashkent last week.
Clinton first travelled to the summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Astana to meet with regional leaders -- President Islam Karimov did not attend.
On December 1, the day before she was to travel to Tashkent to meet with President Karimov, Clinton held a town hall at the Eurasian University in Astana, where she called on Central Asian leaders to observe human rights.
A member of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee who had taken part in organizing a parallel civil society conference asked Clinton a question about the U.S. "reengagement" on Uzbekistan and the deteriorating human rights situation there. He mentioned the cases of 14 human rights defenders in prison and asked whether Clinton would raise their plight in Uzbekistan, and also raise the cases of political prisoners in Turkmenistan. She replied:
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, I will raise that. I will raise it at the very highest levels of the Government of Uzbekistan. And I think that this is an issue that we face everywhere around the world. It is deeply distressing to us because there should be the rule of law. There should be an inclusive society where different voices can be heard. And I raise it in every corner of the world with leaders where we believe it continues to be a problem. And I will certainly raise it in Uzbekistan. And although I will not be going to Turkmenistan on this trip, I will see the leaders. And as I have in the past, I will continue to raise that issue with them. (Applause.)
That same day, Farkhad Mukhtarov, a human rights activists who had been serving a four-year sentence on politically-motivated charges, was released from prison in Uzbekistan.
Rachel Denber, acting Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), welcomed the gesture, but urged more advocacy:
Farkhad Mukhtarov's release is evidence that sustained external pressure can yield positive results, and the secretary of state has set a positive example. Uzbekistan's international partners should now redouble efforts to secure the release of the at least 13 other human rights defenders who are still languishing behind bars.
Mukhtarov, 42, a member of the Human Rights Alliance, will still be on parole for the remainder of his sentence -- 2 1/2 years -- and will be required to pay 30 percent of his monthly salary to the state, says HRW.
According to Human Rights Watch, those still in prison on wrongful charges include: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Abdurasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Habibulla Okpulatov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov. Other activists, such as the dissident poet Yusuf Jumaev, also remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
It is not know if any action will be taken on their cases.