Uzbekistan Holds Activists Incommunicado for Supporting Ukraine Protests
UPDATE, January 30: EurasiaNet.org has spoken with Timur Karpov. He was released this evening after a Tashkent court fined him and three others up to approximately $900 for participating in the unsanctioned rally. Of the eight detained January 29, three – including cultural critic Alex Ulko – have received 15-day sentences; one, Gulsum Osmanova, remains unaccounted for. It's possible she has been released or is still being held.
The whereabouts of at least six activists who had held a small rally to express support for Ukrainian protestors remain unknown after they were apparently detained by police January 29.
The six – prominent photographer Umida Akhmedova and her photojournalist son Timur Karpov, cultural affairs commentator Alex Ulko and three others – were detained two days after they picketed the Ukrainian Embassy in Tashkent in support of pro-democracy protestors, Fergana News reported. Fergana News believes the activists are being held in Tashkent's Khamza District police department, where an officer told Akhmedova's daughter late on January 29 that the group had already been released.
Akhmedova's husband Oleg Karpov fears the detainees, who appear to have not had access to a lawyer, may face "repressive measures" (such as torture, which is “systematic” in the justice system, according to Human Rights Watch). Activists throughout the region and further afield have called on Uzbek authorities to immediately release the group.
Daniil Kislov, editor of the Moscow-based Fergana News, believes authorities will hold the activists for several days and then fine them.
"This is a very convenient instrument of pressure for authorities because long-term detentions and prison terms invite international condemnation. Yet [in such cases] the people are punished financially [...] so they will think twice about protesting next time," Kislov told EurasiaNet.org on January 30.
This is not first time Umida Akhmedova has faced Uzbek justice: In 2010 a Tashkent court convicted her of "discrediting the foundations and customs of the people of Uzbekistan" and "offending [their] traditions" after she published a book of photographs and made a documentary about gender inequality. Her trial drew an international outcry and she was amnestied. Akhmedova recently showed her work at the Moscow Biennale.
Last weekend, on January 25, censors prohibited her son, Timur Karpov, from showing his photographs of life in typical Uzbek villages at an exhibition in the Uzbek capital. (Some of the photos can be seen here.) Karpov was visiting his native Tashkent from Moscow where he has an infant son and works as a photographer for the Lenta.ru news portal.
As of late January 30, Akhmedova's husband Oleg Karpov said on Facebook the whereabouts of his wife and son were still unknown. He had learned that they had been questioned at the department for fighting terrorism, a potentially ominous development in a country where critics are often locked up on bogus extremism charges.
Authoritarian Uzbekistan, which is repeatedly named by international rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive countries, does not permit any form of protest and tries to stifle all public manifestations of discontent. In this atmosphere, the authorities must be watching the protests in Ukraine with unease.