HRW fears new wave of repressions in Uzebkistan

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12:05 01.04.2004
text: "Kazakhstan Today"
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An international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) fears that Uzbekistani authorities can use the last events in the country to start a new wave of persecutions against the opposition to the regime. HRW published a report on its five year work in that Central Asian republic entitled "Creating Enemies of the State: Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan" on 31 March, KZ-today reports.

The report notes that "the Uzbek government has arrested and tortured thousands of nonviolent Muslim dissidents who practice their faith outside state-controlled religion." The report details an ongoing campaign that has resulted in the incarceration of an estimated 7,000 Muslim dissidents. This figure reflects only the number of detainees under articles on religion that the HRW employees themselves found out. It is suggested that in reality there are more of them.

"The Uzbek government has branded independent Muslims as 'extremists' or 'Wahhabis'." They are imprisoned on charges of "subversion," "encroachment on the constitutional order," or "anti-state activities," the reports says. They are arrested, tried in grossly unfair proceedings, and receive sentences of up to twenty years in prison. The report refutes the Uzbek government's frequent claim that the arrest of nonviolent Muslim dissidents is necessary to counter terrorism. In 1999 and 2000, a militant group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan conducted armed operations in the region. The Uzbek government has blamed the IMU for a series of bomb attacks that took place in Tashkent in February 1999. "However, the people whose cases are featured in this report - like thousands of others targeted in the government crackdown - were not charged with involvement in those bombings or accused of membership in the IMU, but were instead imprisoned for their peaceful religious beliefs and practices, unrelated with violence" - the HRW report stresses.

The HRW also draw attention to the fact that torture is rampant in Uzbekistan, but "police mete out particularly harsh treatment to religious detainees to compel confessions or other testimony." The Human Rights Watch report documents 10 deaths from torture over a five-year period. The report details the cases of numerous others tortured through such methods as beatings, electric shock, asphyxiation, suspension from their wrists or ankles, rape and burning with cigarettes.

Human Rights Watch has called on Uzbekistan's allies, such as the United States and EU countries, to denounce Uzbekistan's persecution of independent Muslims and to demand a halt to the mass arrests and torture. In April the Bush administration is expected to decide whether or not to certify that Uzbekistan has made the "substantial and continuing progress" on human rights necessary to release some $50 million in aid to Tashkent.

The Uzbek government's human rights record is coming up for close scrutiny also by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is to decide on its level of engagement with Uzbekistan in the coming days. Members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting in Geneva, will also determine what action to take in the face of the Uzbek government's continued defiance of international law.