Tashkent Sends Hostile Message on Human Rights

 The prosecution of a British embassy staffer who dared to talk to human rights groups and legal threats against a journalist who went on a training course abroad give a clear indication of how the Uzbek government views calls for reform, activists say

Leonid Kudryavtsev, a local national employed as press officer at the British embassy in Tashkent, was fined 1,650 US dollars in July after a court found him guilty of breaking a law on public assembly.

The centrepiece in the prosecution’s case was a letter in which two concerned citizens accused Kudryavtsev generally and the embassy generally of training "extremist forces” and “preparing anti-government actions".

The British embassy has said Kudryavtsev was doing no more than maintaining normal contacts with local civil society groups.

Rights defenders say the allegations of support for subversives is probably loosely based on training and discussion events that the embassy has organised on issues like human rights, international conventions and the application of habeas corpus legislation in Uzbekistan.

"This could hardly fail to annoy the authorities, because the workshops were attended by human rights defenders from the provinces who then applied that knowledge at home," Yelena Urlaeva, who heads the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, said."

Vladimir Husainov, head of the Tashkent branch of the International Human Rights Defenders’ Society, said the Uzbek government had a “panicky fear" of democratic ideas spreading. "They see it as a call to revolution," he added.

The treatment of freelance journalist Yelena Bondar only strengthens fears of a renewed crackdown. She was detained at Tashkent airport on August 22 while returning from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, where she had been attending the Central Asian School of Contemporary Journalism, run by the OSCE Academy and Deutsche Welle. She was accused of failing to declare “information storage devices” – CDs, videocassettes and USB cards – which are supposed to be screened by the authorities for banned content.

On 6 August, a customs official said Bondar would not after all be put on trial, and her property would be returned to her with a verbal warning.

Sergey Naumov, a media expert in Uzbekistan the actions taken against Kudryavtsev and Bondar were "preventive measures" designed to intimidate journalists and rights activists.

"It can also been as a warning to western diplomats, organisations and foundations that the regime is ready to counter any attempt to influence the situation," he added.

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.