Thursday, December 18, 2008

Uzbekistan: Imprisoned Activists’ Health in Danger


These activists should never have been imprisoned in the first place. That several of them are now suffering severe health problems as a result is an outrage, and only underscores the urgency of securing their immediate and unconditional release.

Igor Vorontsov, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch

A UN review set for today of Uzbekistan’s human rights practices is a crucial opportunity to highlight concern about its abysmal human rights record and press for immediate steps to end abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

Uzbekistan is coming up for scrutiny before the United Nations’ global rights body, the Human Rights Council, under its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure in Geneva.

Of urgent concern is the plight of imprisoned human rights defenders - currently numbering at least 11 - and other independent political and civic activists whom the Uzbek government has detained on politically motivated grounds. According to recent reports received by Human Rights Watch, a number of these activists are suffering severe health problems as a result of poor conditions and ill-treatment in Uzbekistan’s notoriously abusive prison system.

“These activists should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Igor Vorontsov, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That several of them are now suffering severe health problems as a result is an outrage, and only underscores the urgency of securing their immediate and unconditional release.”

A new list of imprisoned human rights defenders and activists in Uzbekistan published by Human Rights Watch today gives up-to-date case summaries, detailing the circumstances of each individual’s wrongful detention and highlighting details of the severe health problems faced by a number of them. Among those whose health condition demands immediate attention are Yusuf Jumaev, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Rasul Khudainasarov, and Sanjar Umarov. In some of these cases, authorities have not only failed to provide adequate medical care, but have actively undermined their health through torture, ill-treatment and the use of psychotropic drugs.

Human Rights Watch urged UN member states taking part in the Uzbekistan review to use the opportunity to send a strong, unequivocal message to Tashkent about the unacceptable state of human rights in the country and about the necessity of concrete and meaningful rights improvements.

Key areas of concern highlighted by Human Rights Watch in its submission to the UPR included the 2005 massacre by government forces in Andijan, in which hundreds were killed and for which the Uzbek government continues to deny justice; the ongoing persecution of human rights defenders and repression of independent civil society activism; torture and ill-treatment in the criminal justice system, which Uzbek authorities have failed to take effective action to address; repression of media freedoms, and; religious persecution targeting in particular Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls or who belong to unregistered religious organizations.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Uzbek government to engage positively and effectively in the human rights review process and to take seriously all recommendations made.

“Improving the dismal human rights situation in Uzbekistan will take more than a rhetorical commitment or yet another seminar,” said Vorontsov. “The Uzbek government should demonstrate real political will by immediately releasing wrongfully detained human rights activists and issuing invitations to all UN rights monitors who have requested access.”

Specific recommendations that Human Rights Watch urged the UN Human Rights Council to address to the Uzbek government included the following:

  • Ensure accountability for the Andijan massacre and cease harassment and other abuses of returned refugees and families of refugees who remain abroad;
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, members of the political opposition and other activists held on politically motivated charges;
  • End the crackdown on civil society and allow domestic and international human rights groups to operate without government interference;
  • Take meaningful measures to end torture and the accompanying culture of impunity, including by complying in full with the recommendations of the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and Committee Against Torture;
  • Cease harassment of journalists and allow domestic and international media outlets, including those that have been forced to stop operating in Uzbekistan, to register and grant accreditation to international journalists;
  • End religious persecution, including by decriminalizing peaceful religious activity; and,
  • Allow unfettered access for independent monitors, including UN special rapporteurs who have been unable to visit due to the government’s refusal to issue the required invitations.
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