APRIL 2004

"Widespread torture of detainees is common in criminal investigations in Uzbekistan, and has become an unmistakable feature of the government's crackdown against independent Islam. Uzbekistan's government refuses to hold police and security forces accountable for acts of torture, and even tacitly encourages torture though its broadcasting of political prisoners' public "confessions" as tools of political propaganda. Instituting legal and judicial reform to halt torture, and ending impunity for it, should be a matter of priority for the government of Uzbekistan and for all parties interested in human rights and the security and stability of the region. Persons detained by police in Uzbekistan are routinely subjected to physical and psychological abuse, often from the initial moments of their arrest. Mounting numbers of deaths in pre- and post-conviction detention facilities over the past two years attest to the brutality of the treatment meted out against detainees and prisoners. Although Uzbek law criminalizes torture, few law enforcement officers are held accountable for it. Uzbek courts routinely rely on evidence extracted under torture, despite rulings barring the admissibility of this

Uzbekistan's terrorism - who to blame?
Simon Jones

On March 28-30, a series of attacks on militia posts and several explosions rocked the city of Tashkent and a village near Bukhara. At least twenty militia and bystanders were killed and many wounded. The explosions involved women suicide bombers, one of whom detonated her tragic load near the beautiful Kukaldash mosque in the old part of Tashkent. A sad first for the Uzbek nation.

Tues.March30 BBC

Uzbekistan says 20 suspected militants have blown themselves up during a fierce gun battle with special forces in the capital, Tashkent.

Three police officers were also killed after police and troops surrounded a building, the interior ministry said.

After several hours of armed exchanges, there was an explosion inside the building, followed by silence.

On Sunday and Monday, 19 people were killed and 26 injured in bombs in Tashkent and the city of Bukhara.

Tuesday's siege took place in the north of Tashkent.

President Karimov denounced the events on Uzbek TV, explaining that they "were carried out by those forces that hate in their very souls our country, the peaceful life of our citizens and their achievements. Their aims are to disrupt peace, destabilize the situation, sow fear and panic, disrupt faith in our policies, disrupt our good thoughts and creative work."

True, they were carried out to "destabilize the situation" and "disrupt faith in our policies", but as for the rest...

Tues.March 30th BBC

All of the attacks seem to be directed at police targets and now there are lone officers dotted around Tashkent's streets, highly visible and vulnerable to attack, she says.

Our correspondent says the police are widely seen as the main instrument of government in Uzbekistan, and are very much disliked and feared in some circles.

Privately the recent murders of the militia are seen by many as just deserts for a force that is omnipresent, eager to supplement their meager wages with bribes, notorious for using torture against people, and always 'solving' any crime by finding an appropriate criminal, whether or not s/he is guilty. In the past, a murdered militia head was gruesomely stuck on the local city hall fence spikes in Fergana valley, a particular hotbed of anti-government feeling. This is the first time the hated militia have been the target of unrest beyond the independent-minded Fergana valley, a truly worrying sign.

As for 'our policies', read 'IMF dictates'. Yes, Uzbekistan finally made its currency, ironically called the sum (but pronounced soom), convertible, after years of procrastinating, despite daily exhortations and pressure by the IMF, the US and the WB. In the process, all basic goods prices were ratcheted up to an unbearable level. Meanwhile, the government soaked up sums by selling dollar reserves, pushing down the exchange rate to less than 1000 sums per $ (it once was 1800) as inflation continued to eat away at real wages. This effectively halved people's pitiful savings (in $ as no one can trust a bank here to return one's deposits). Imported goods have doubled in price, including most medicines. Not infrequently they are phony, nicely packaged by a local petty swindler, a would-be New Uzbek.

In a word, the atmosphere of 'freedom and democracy' based on IMF wisdom has created a tinderbox. The president's reference to 'our policies' and 'the path we have chosen' sticks in the craw. It is the path the IMF chose, as it turned a blind eye to the devastation wrought on the average Farhad and the new ease with which corrupt officials and mafia deposit their ill-gotten gains abroad.

The latest straw for the hand-to-mouth Farhads has been the inexorable increase in public transit charges - each month a 10% increase. Now at 140 sums, that may not sound bad to a westerner, but it is a major cost for most people, and if you commute to work and must transfer and return the same day, as most do, that alone will absorb half a normal salary. The last increase was met with outright protest on the bus I was in, the first time I've witnessed this. The babushka shouting at the conductor was hardly a terrorist.

And what does one read in the local press? About the great future, the happy contented citizens, the approval of the IMF for the wise policies of the president, the lack of inflation, the creation of a bicameral parliament, the construction of the new senate building... The only TV programs that are
watched avidly are the Indian movies and Mexican soap operas. And thank God for them.

President Karimov noted with disapproval in his speech that "before, we did not witness the situation where the criminal blew himself up. This shows the imitation of terrorist acts taking place in other countries." Ah yes, those cursed Palestinians and Iraqis. He goes on to add, ominously, "extremist centers with big financial means are behind them," though a few guns and some ammonium nitrate don't cost an awful lot (correct me if I'm wrong).

Is he perhaps trying to connect this with the tragedy of the Palestinians or the criminal invasion of Iraq (which he enthusiastically endorses, even THESE days)? If so, he puts himself in the shoes of the Israeli and US occupation forces in their respective missions, hardly desirable bedfellows for a Muslim leader.

Finally, he calls on the traditional community organizations, mahallas, and their members, to be extra vigilant in exposing suspicious activities. "May they be brave and decisive, not stinting in their duty to preserve order in the mahallas."

That's the spirit! In the tradition of 911, encourage people to inform on each other, and don't dare question what grievances the desperate individuals have that might prompt them to blow themselves up. Of course, they are mere dupes of some nebulous religious 'fanatics' (thousands of whom are languishing (or worse) in Uzbek jails). The fact that life for most Uzbeks is close to unbearable is never mentioned.

But beware Mr Karimov. The US can be a fickle ally. The shiny new FBI office you so graciously allowed them to open here, the huge military base you so magnanimously handed over, packed full of hardnosed soldiers and covert operations experts - they aren't necessarily to protect YOU. And you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Tues.March 30th BBC

Finger of blame

Hizb ut-Tahrir said the government would use the attacks as a justification for the oppression of Muslims.

The group, which is banned in all central Asian states, advocates the introduction of Muslim Sharia law.

Another group under suspicion is the home-grown Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

The group initially aimed to overthrow Mr Karimov and replace his administration with a Muslim government, although in 2000 its objective changed to establishing a radical Islamist state across Central Asia.

The group's leader Tahir Yuldashev is accused of orchestrating a series of deadly bomb attacks in Tashkent in 1999, one of which nearly killed Mr Karimov.

However, Shahida Tulaganova of the BBC's Central Asia Service says the group, which fought alongside the Taleban during the Afghan conflict, is now in tatters with many of its leaders being held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

September 10, 2002

Source: HRW

(New York, September 10, 2002) - The U.S. State Department has exaggerated Uzbekistan's human rights gains, evidently in order to maintain foreign assistance to that country's government, Human Rights Watch said today.

In an August 26 document that has not been released to the public, Secretary of State Colin Powell reported to the U.S. Congress that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting the human rights and democracy commitments contained in a Joint Declaration signed with U.S. officials in March 2002. The State Department's determination was required for $45 million in additional assistance to the Uzbek government to be released, under legislation enacted by the Congress in July.

"The State Department did not use this law as it was intended," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "We expected a proactive effort. All we got was a pro-forma report."

The United States has publicly expressed concern about recent setbacks in Uzbekistan, which include deaths in custody of religious prisoners and the forced psychiatric detention of a human rights defender. Yet on the basis of conversations with U.S. officials, Human Rights Watch believes that the State Department made no attempt to use the new law to leverage additional progress on those concerns before it made its positive determination.

In March 2002, a U.S.-Uzbek Joint Declaration committed Uzbekistan to ensure a "strong and open civil society," "respect for human rights and freedoms," a "genuine multi-party system," "free and fair elections," "political pluralism, diversity of opinions and the freedom to express them," "the independence of the media" and "independence of the courts."

In determining progress in these areas, the State Department listed a number of steps taken by Uzbekistan in response to U.S. concerns. Yet for each step cited, Uzbek authorities have adopted repressive measures that undermine its impact. For example:

- The State Department cited the registration of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, the first such group permitted to function legally in the country, and expressed hope that other groups would be legalized soon. Yet since March, no other groups have been registered and at least four human rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained. Another defender, Yuldash Rasulov, is on trial on charges relating to "religious extremism." On August 28, the authorities forcibly committed yet another human rights defender, Elena Urlaeva, to a mental institution, where for the past few days she has been denied visits even from her family.

- The State Department cited prison sentences handed down against seven police and security agents since January for two deaths in custody, as well as an invitation to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Uzbekistan. But since March, Human Rights Watch has documented three new deaths arising from suspicious circumstances in custody. Two deaths, those of Muzafar Avazov and Husnidin Alimov, took place in August just prior to the State Department's positive determination. Many other deaths in custody and countless reports of torture remain uninvestigated. In May the Uzbek government failed to provide the U.N. Committee against Torture with requested statistics on the number of detainees in its facilities.

- The State Department cited declining arrests of Muslims whose religious practices and affiliations fall beyond state controls. Yet the pace of arrests and trials since March indicates that the Uzbek government has not relented in its campaign to arrest and persecute such people. Between February and July, Human Rights Watch's research alone found that 116 people were convicted on charges relating to religious "extremism," and that dozens more were arrested. The State Department acknowledges there are still about 6,500 prisoners in Uzbekistan convicted on "extremism" charges, most of whom were arrested and charged for their protected religious beliefs, practices, and affiliations.

- The State Department cited the opposition political party Birlik's ability to hold five regional congresses since April, without government interference. But past and current members of Birlik remain on police lists and are required to report regularly to police and to sign statements explaining their current activities. Members of other banned political parties continue to be harassed and risk arbitrary detention for gathering informally or discussing political issues. Also, since March, citizens who have tried to organize protests on economic, social, and political issues have been harassed, threatened, and detained.

- The State Department cited the abolition of formal prepublication censorship. But authorities apparently have transferred the role of censor from the press censor's office to newspaper editors. After running several articles that would not have been published previously, the editor of at least one newspaper was subsequently summoned by the presidential administration and pressured to stop publishing such material. Overall media content has otherwise not changed. Journalists continue to risk arbitrary detention. Last week, Uzbek police arrested human rights defender Jakhangir Shosalimov, of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, on doubtful charges of inciting a riot, when in fact he had helped a journalist arrange an interview with a victim of police violence.

- The State Department gave credit for progress that has yet to be seen. For example, it cites judicial reforms announced last August, before the Declaration was adopted, but which remain unimplemented.

Conditions on U.S. assistance to Uzbekistan, which totaled $173 million this year, are likely to be maintained by the U.S. Congress, and Human Rights Watch urged the Bush administration to use them more effectively to obtain progress.

"We recognize that in many ways American engagement on human rights in Uzbekistan has intensified since September 11, rather than ending as many feared," Malinowski said. "But that engagement won't be effective unless the Bush administration sends the message Congress intended: that continued U.S. support for the Uzbek government depends on greater responsiveness to U.S. concerns on human rights."

For more information on Uzbekistan, please see