The socioeconomic situation deteriorated, increasing already significant poverty levels; the UN estimated that just under 30 per cent of the population were living below the poverty line. Although officially unemployment stood at 3 per cent, the World Bank and other economic observers believed the figure to be closer to 40 per cent. Hundreds of thousands left the country to seek employment in Kazakstan and the Russian Federation, often working as irregular migrants on building sites or in markets. Many faced harsh working and living conditions, including low pay, beatings, discrimination and no access to protection, health or housing. Some observers signalled poverty and its perceived discriminatory nature as driving factors behind the growth of banned Islamic movements or Islamist parties such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Pressure on international media and NGOs continued. In July the authorities refused to extend the visa and work permit of the country director of Human Rights Watch. Criminal prosecutions for tax evasion were brought against three local correspondents for the German international radio and television station Deutsche Welle who had been critical in their reporting. Faced with a possible prison sentence, one of the correspondents fled the country.
In the run-up to the December presidential elections access to independent information became increasingly difficult with independent or opposition-affiliated websites virtually blocked. President Islam Karimov won the elections and a third term in office with nearly 90 per cent of the vote despite the constitution limiting presidents to two terms in office.
Two years after the killing of hundreds of people in Andizhan, when security forces fired on mainly peaceful demonstrators, the authorities continued to refuse to hold an independent, international investigation into these events. They agreed, however, to hold a second round of expert talks with representatives of the European Union (EU) in the capital, Tashkent, in April.
In May, the first formal EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue was held in Tashkent in advance of the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) session. GAERC remained seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan and linked the lifting of sanctions to Uzbekistan’s implementation of international human rights standards.GAERC decided to extend sanctions aimed at Uzbekistan; a visa ban imposed on 12 Uzbekistani officials in November 2005 was extended for six months for eight of the officials, and an ongoing arms embargo was left unchanged. The Uzbekistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to GAERC in a public statement calling the EU decision “unfounded and biased” and an “instrument of systematic pressure on Uzbekistan dressed up in human rights rhetoric”. In a reversal of its May position and despite opposition from some member states, GAERC voted in October to suspend the visa ban on the remaining eight officials for six months. In the same month GAERC called for the release of all jailed human rights defenders but failed to mention specifically the need for an independent international investigation into the Andizhan killings.
In March, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted to accept the recommendations of its Working Group on Situations to discontinue consideration of Uzbekistan under the HRC’s confidential 1503 Procedure. This meant that the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Uzbekistan appointed under the confidential 1503 Procedure was also terminated and that Uzbekistan’s human rights record would no longer be under special scrutiny by the HRC.
In November, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) published its concluding observations and recommendations following CAT’s examination of Uzbekistan’s third periodic report. CAT welcomed the introduction of habeas corpus and urged Uzbekistan to “apply a zero-tolerance approach to the continuing problem of torture, and to the practice of impunity”.
Human rights defenders
The situation for human rights defenders and independent journalists continued to deteriorate and the authorities further restricted their freedom of speech, assembly and movement in the run-up to the December presidential elections. In early 2007, two human rights defenders and an opposition political activist were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on what appeared to be politically-motivated charges. All three cases were linked either directly or indirectly to the 2005 Andizhan events.
At least 14 human rights defenders continued to serve long prison terms in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions having been convicted after unfair trials. Several were reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. Those human rights activists and journalists not forced into exile and not in detention were routinely monitored by law enforcement officers; human rights defenders were called in for questioning to their local police stations, placed under house arrest or otherwise prevented from attending meetings with foreign diplomats or delegations or from taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
Human rights defenders and journalists continued to report being threatened by members of the security services for carrying out legitimate activities. Several reported being assaulted and beaten and detained by law enforcement officers or people they suspected working for the security services. Relatives spoke of being threatened and harassed by security forces; some were detained in order to put pressure on human rights defenders. A disturbing trend emerged during the year with the authorities coercing defendants to renege on their NGO affiliations in return for suspended sentences.
- In December, Ikhtior Khamroev, the 22-year-old son of Bakhtior Khamroev, the head of the Dzhizzakh section of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, was released from the prison punishment cell to which he had been confined for 10 days. He told his father that he had been beaten and locked in a punishment cell, and that he had cut himself in the abdomen in protest at his ill-treatment. Ikhtior Khamroev was serving a three-year prison sentence handed down in September 2006 following an unfair trial. He was believed to have been detained because of the human rights activities of his father. He may have been beaten to punish his father for anti-government statements made at an international conference on human rights defenders in Dublin, Ireland in November.
- In January, Rasul Tadzhibaev was granted a second visit with his sister, the jailed human rights defender Mutabar Tadzhibaeva held in Tashkent Women’s Prison. She had been sentenced to eight years in prison on economic and political charges in March 2006 and her appeal against the verdict was turned down in May 2006. Mutabar Tadzhibaeva claimed she had not been permitted to meet with her lawyer and continued to be put in solitary confinement for alleged infringements of prison rules. In letters smuggled out of prison, Mutabar Tadzhibaeva described cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of detention and punishments suffered by herself and other inmates. Members of her family continued to be harassed by the authorities. In March, Rasul Tadzhibaev was detained in order to prevent him from attending a demonstration in Tashkent calling for the release of detained female activists. He was also evicted from his apartment and was threatened with expulsion from Tashkent.
- In May, Umida Niazova, a human rights activist and independent journalist, was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment by a district court in Tashkent on charges of illegally crossing the border, smuggling and distributing material causing public disorder after a two-day trial which fell far short of international standards. On 8 May Umida Niazova was released from the court-room after an appeal court changed her sentence to a three-year suspended one. She pleaded guilty to all three charges during the appeal hearing and accused international organizations of having misled her. Umida Niazova had worked for Human Rights Watch as a translator at the time of the Andizhan mass killings in 2005 and was in their employ at the time of her arrest. She had previously worked for other international NGOs.
- Gulbahor Turaeva, a 40-year-old pathologist and human rights activist from Andizhan who had spoken out to foreign media and questioned the official version of the 2005 Andizhan events, was detained in January at the border on her way back from Kyrgyzstan, reportedly carrying around 120 publications in her bags, including books by the exiled leader of the banned secular opposition Erk party. Charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and distributing subversive materials, she was sentenced to six years in prison in April. She was also charged with defamation. Following a second trial in May she was found guilty and fined. In June, her prison term was commuted on appeal to a six-year suspended sentence and she was released from detention. Gulbahor Turaeva pleaded guilty to all charges at the appeal hearing and denounced her work as a human rights defender as well as the activities of other human rights activists.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Persistent allegations of widespread torture or other ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners by law enforcement personnel continued. These reports stemmed not only from men and women suspected of membership of banned Islamic groups or of having committed terrorist offences but from all layers of civil society, including human rights activists, journalists and former – often high-profile - members of the government and security forces.
The failure by the relevant authorities to properly investigate such allegations remained a serious concern. Very few law enforcement officers were brought to trial and held accountable for the human rights violations they committed and yet thousands of people – in pre-trial detention or convicted – routinely alleged that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody in order to extract a confession. In January, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs informed Amnesty International that six or seven police officers had been convicted on torture-related offences in 2005 and 2006. Amnesty International welcomed the fact that prosecutions of people responsible for torture and ill-treatment had taken place. However, the numbers of convictions were alarmingly low considering that during the year an estimated 6,000 prisoners remained in detention after being convicted on politically-motivated charges in reportedly unfair trials. Many of these prisoners were reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention and in November the UN CAT in examining Uzbekistan’s compliance with the Convention against Torture found that torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment were routine.
Forcible return of terrorism suspects
The Uzbekistani authorities continued to actively seek the extradition of members or suspected members of banned Islamist parties or Islamic movements, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, from neighbouring countries as well as the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Most of those forcibly returned to Uzbekistan were held in incommunicado detention, increasing their risk of being tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Refugees who had fled after the Andizhan events and who voluntarily returned to Uzbekistan alleged that their movements were restricted. Some returnees were reportedly arrested on return to Uzbekistan. It was not possible to obtain any information on the whereabouts of those detained.
Authorities in the Russian Federation ignored decisions by the European Court of Human Rights to halt deportations of Uzbekistani asylum-seekers pending examinations of their applications to the court. Russian officials also confirmed that officers of the Uzbekistani security forces had been operating on the territory of the Russian Federation.
- In October 2006, Rustam Muminov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, was extradited from the Russian Federation to Uzbekistan despite a request by the European Court of Human Rights to the Russian Federation for interim measures to halt the deportation. In March 2007, human rights groups learned that Rustam Muminov had been sentenced to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after being held in incommunicado detention for three months following extradition.
- In December, Russian human rights organizations received official confirmation that officers of the Uzbekistani security forces had detained asylum-seeker Mukhammadsalikh Abutov in the Russian Federation in July. An interstate warrant for his arrest was only issued after his detention and reportedly backdated by the Uzbekistani authorities. Mukhammadsalikh Abutov was still in detention in the Russian Federation at the end of the year.
A new law adopted by the Senate in June amended the criminal, criminal procedural and criminal executive codes by replacing the death penalty with life or long-term imprisonment. The law was scheduled to come into effect from 1 January 2008, marking the formal abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan. The authorities failed to introduce moratoria on executions and death sentences pending full abolition.
Some local NGOs claimed there were hundreds of prisoners under sentence of death held in conditions which amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. According to the NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, 20 of at least 38 prisoners on death row in Tashkent prison (six of whom were sentenced to death in the first half of 2007), were reported to be infected with tuberculosis (TB) and were not receiving adequate medical treatment. There was no clarity as to how individual cases would be reviewed in light of the scheduled abolition of the death penalty, or about ongoing detention arrangements.
- Iskandar Khudaiberganov, held on death row in Tashkent prison since November 2002, was diagnosed with TB in 2004 but has never received adequate medical treatment. His family were able to provide him with some anti-TB drugs, but it was feared that he risked developing drug-resistant strains of the disease.
Amnesty International reports
- Central Asia: Summary of human rights concerns, January 2006-March 2007 (EUR 04/001/2007)
- Crackdown on human rights defenders: Secret trials and torture in the ‘information age' (EUR 62/002/2007)
- Uzbekistan: The government should ensure the concrete and effective implementation of the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture as a matter of priority (EUR 62/008/2007)
- Iskandar Khudaiberganov: ongoing health concerns (EUR 62/006/2007)