Human Rights and Democracy: The 2012 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Country updates: Uzbekistan

Latest Update: 31 December 2013

Although there were some positive developments over the past three months, we remain concerned by the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

The monitoring of the cotton harvest this year by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) represented important progress. At the request of the Uzbek government, the ILO monitored the presence of children under 15 in the cotton fields from mid-September to the end of October, and is expected to issue a full report in February 2014. Preliminary reports of the ILO’s findings, along with those of other organisations, suggest that there was, as in 2012, no systematic mobilisation of children under fifteen, but that forced mobilisation of adults and of young people over 15 continues. The Uzbek government has declared its intention to work with the ILO to address wider issues of workers’ rights, including full implementation of ILO Convention 105 on forced labour.

On 29-30 October Uzbekistan appeared before the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) as part of the standard reporting cycle. UNCAT acknowledged Uzbekistan’s efforts to improve its human rights situation in some areas, but reiterated a number of key recommendations arising from Uzbekistan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April, in particular the need to investigate all allegations of torture.

To support Uzbek efforts towards implementation of the Convention against Torture, the British Embassy has shared UK expertise and best practice with the government of Uzbekistan. The government of Uzbekistan has stated its intention to establish a National Preventive Mechanism against torture, and has prepared a draft National Action Plan to take forward those of the recommendations made at the UPR that it accepted, expressing its willingness to work with international partners in doing so.

On 20-23 November, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov visited the UK and met the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Human Rights Baroness Warsi. Baroness Warsi discussed human rights issues, including some individual cases, with Minister Komilov.

On 17 December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan confirmed the government’s support for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Declaration, making Uzbekistan the first Central Asian state to do so.

Between October and December there continued to be allegations in internet media and by NGOs of cases of human rights abuse, including actions by law enforcement authorities against individuals engaged in religious activities outside state-sanctioned structures, and mistreatment and torture of detainees.

During this period a number of formally independent media outlets were closed due to alleged infringements of the law; and “Fund Forum”, an umbrella organisation for cultural and NGO activities, ceased to operate.

Journalist Sergei Naumov was imprisoned from 21 September to 3 October on charges of assault. Also in October, activist Kudratbek Rasulov was reportedly arrested in Namangan for downloading videos critical of the Uzbek government.

There were media reports of allegations that Samariddin Salokhiddinov, 35 years old, died in October as a result of torture sustained while in prison; and that in November Tavakkal Khodzhiev, 36 years old, died in prison as a result of torture.

Update: 30 September 2013

We remain concerned by the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

During Uzbekistan’s UN Universal Periodic Review in April, the UK called on the government of Uzbekistan to: introduce a definition of torture into its criminal code that is in line with the  Convention against Torture; establish an effective mechanism to investigate credible allegations of torture, ensuring that perpetrators are held to account; and put in place a structure to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The government of Uzbekistan rejected this recommendation but has indicated a desire to develop its own national mechanism for the prevention of torture. The British Embassy continues to engage with the government of Uzbekistan in this area through sharing UK expertise and best practice.

A round table meeting was held in Tashkent in July, bringing together senior representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the authorities of Uzbekistan. Agreement was reached on further co-operation between Uzbekistan and the ILO, including the presence of the ILO to monitor the 2013 cotton harvest. There were media reports in September 2013 of mass mobilisation for the cotton harvest, including of college and university students.

Khasan Choriev, the father of the founder of the independent Birdamlik movement, Bahodir Choriev, was detained in June on rape charges. In August he was given a five-year prison sentence. Reports from human rights groups have alleged significant flaws in the trial process, including a lack of access to a lawyer of Mr Choriev’s choosing. These reports also allege that the case against Mr Choriev is politically motivated.

Bobomurad Razzakov, Chairman of the Bukhara region branch of Ezgulik, an independent human rights group, has been in detention since 10 July and on trial since 26 August facing charges of human trafficking. If convicted, Razzakov faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. We are monitoring the outcome of this case closely.

Reports of state-imposed restrictions on exercising freedom of religion or belief continued from July to September.

Update: 30 June 2013

We remain concerned by the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

We strongly welcome the release of the writer Mamadali Makhmudov, who had previously been informed that he would face a new five year jail sentence. We remain gravely concerned about other writers, journalists and human rights defenders in prison in Uzbekistan, including Akzam Turgunov, Azamjon Formonov and Dilmurod Saidov, where acute humanitarian concerns have been reported. We are also concerned for Murad Juraev, whom reports of ill-health continue to surface. Juraev is an Erk party member and former member of the Supreme Council of Uzbekistan, whose jail term was extended for a fifth time, for a further three years, in December 2012.

In April, the ICRC announced it would discontinue prison visiting in Uzbekistan as it was unable to follow standard working procedures for visits. In the same month, Uzbekistan underwent its second Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In its interventions, the UK highlighted concerns about freedoms of assembly and expression; registration of independent political parties and independent NGOs; mistreatment and torture of detainees; and pressure on Uzbekistan’s independent human rights community. In total, Uzbekistan received 203 recommendations of which it accepted 101 and rejected 58, including a UK recommendation on torture. It considered that 30 recommendations, including one from the UK on registration of NGOs and political parties to already have been implemented or were in the process of being implemented. Uzbekistan will consider its position on a further 14 recommendations.

In June, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee on the Application of Standards held hearings in Geneva on Uzbekistan’s compliance with its obligations under ILO conventions. The US downgraded Uzbekistan to Tier 3 in its 2013 Global Trafficking in Persons Report. The UK has continued to encourage Uzbekistan to consider inviting the ILO to visit Uzbekistan to monitor compliance with Article 3 of ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour.

In a report released in May, Freedom House listed Uzbekistan third in its “ten worst countries for journalists” category. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists reiterated in April its concern for Mohammad Bekjanov, whose health has reportedly severely deteriorated since January 2012, when his imprisonment was extended for a five further years. We remained concerned about Salijon Abdurakhmanov, an independent journalist from Karakalpakstan in jail since 2008 who is reportedly suffering from severe health problems in a prison hospital in Tashkent.

There were several reports of pressure on the Christian community in Uzbekistan including raids and confiscation of materials and books. Practising Christian Naziya Ziyatdinova reported that – despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease – she was subjected to an “anti terror” raid. Forum 18 expressed concern in May for Khayrullo Tursunov who may receive a jail sentence of up to fifteen years for religious extremism. Having left Uzbekistan at the end of 2011 for Kazakhstan, Mr Tursunov – a devout Muslim – was detained in Kazakhstan for eleven months before his extradition to Uzbekistan and subsequent arrest. Mr Tursunov has appealed against what he claims was an unfair extradition.

Pressure has remained high on human rights activists and journalists. Uktam Pardaev, an activist based in Jizzakh region, continued to report surveillance and pressure from the security services on him and his family. Gulshan Karaeva also reported pressure and harassment. Dmitri Tikhonov, an Angren-based activist based, reported that upon arrival at a meeting with the US Ambassador to Uzbekistan he was arrested and detained for several hours, preventing him from meeting with the Ambassador. The father of the founder of the independent Birdamlik movement, 71 year old Khasan Choriev, was arrested on 17 June and accused of rape. He is reportedly being held in Kashkadarya region and family members have reportedly had no access to him. We are concerned that aspects of Mr Choriev’s case appear politically motivated. On 13 May, two activists were detained overnight for attempting to lay flowers at Uzbekistan’s Monument of Courage in commemoration of the shootings in Andijan in 2005.

We continue to have serious concerns about the incarceration of Said Ashurov, Chief Metallurgist at the Uzbek-British joint venture Amantaytau Goldfields, sentenced in August 2011 to 12 years imprisonment for espionage. As reported previously, we continue to urge the Uzbek authorities to consider Mr Ashurov’s release at the earliest opportunity, particularly in light of reports of Mr Ashurov’s ill-health.

Update: 31 March 2013

During the last quarter we learned that a rolling prisoner amnesty took place under a law adopted by the Uzbek Senate in December 2012.  The amnesty was reportedly applied to over 19,000 citizens.  Of these, 2,095 people were reported to have been discharged from prison sentences.  It is disappointing to note that just one human rights defender, Gulnoza Yuldasheva, appears to have been among those released.  We remain concerned about several cases of journalists and human rights defenders in prison, including Akzam Turgunov, Azamjon Formonov and Dilmurod Saidov, where acute human rights concerns have been reported.  In addition, reports of ill-health continue to surface in the case of Murad Juraev, an Erk party member and former member of the Supreme Council of Uzbekistan, who in December 2012 saw his prison term extended for the fifth time, for a further three years.

Mamadali Makhmudov, an Uzbek writer and activist, was informed on 5 March that he would face a new prison term of up to five years based on Article 221 of the criminal code (breaking prison rules).  Mr Makhmudov, who suffers from tuberculosis, was due to be released in March following 14 years in prison on charges which he denies of attempting to overthrow the Uzbek constitution.  Mr Makhmudov’s relatives say that they have not been permitted to visit him in prison since 14 November 2012. The Embassy will monitor this latest case against Mr Makhmudov closely and urges the Uzbek authorities to take all necessary steps to guarantee him the right to a fair trial.

Human rights defenders Saida Kurbanova (Chair of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan) and Nuriniso Kholbaeva, based in Jizzakh region, reported continued harassment from the security services and pressure on their activities in the first three months of 2012. Both alleged torture following their sentencing to 15 days’ detention in December 2012. Uktam Padaev, who served 15 days in prison in October 2012, and is also based in Jizzakh, alleged in February that he was under round-the-clock surveillance from plain clothed police officers and was concerned for his and his family’s safety.

In February Mutabar Tajibaeva, a human rights defender from Uzbekistan based in Paris, filed a complaint against Uzbekistan with the UN Human Rights Committee. Ms Tajibaeva alleges that during her two years and eight months’ imprisonment in Uzbekistan she was tortured and forcibly sterilised.  Ms Tajibaeva is asking the Committee to order Uzbekistan to investigate her allegations and punish those responsible.   She is also requesting her full medical records, to which she claims she does not currently have access.

We continue to have serious concerns about the incarceration of Said Ashurov, Chief Metallurgist at the Uzbek-British joint venture Amantaytau Goldfields, who was sentenced in August 2011 on espionage charges to 12 years in prison.  As reported previously, we continue to urge the Uzbek authorities to consider Mr. Ashurov’s release at the earliest opportunity, particularly in light of reports of his ill health.

Article 19, a religious freedom organisation, reported in February that practising Christian Sharofat Allamova, from Urgench in Uzbekistan, was facing criminal prosecution and a jail sentence of up to three years under Article 244 of the Criminal Code for allegedly illegally storing religious literature.