Stroehlein writes letter about torture to Karimova

Gulnara Karimova; photo:
To condemn and fight torture, to help political prisoners, to make those responsible for the Andijan massacre answerable, and to stop forced labour are part of “requests” Andrew Stroehlein, media director at the International Crisis Group, has sent to the Uzbek president’s elder daughter, Gulnara Karimova.

Following his correspondence with Karimova on Twitter, Stroehlein sent a letter to her with specific cases of torture and human rights violations in Uzbekistan.

“Given the nature and scale of the problem [of human rights in Uzbekistan], it is difficult to know where to begin with this, but what I’ve tried to do below is highlight some general issues, provide lists of some individuals and then go into greater detail for a few of their cases,” Stroehlein wrote.

“If we start with these and make some progress, perhaps you would look in to other cases as well,” he said.

The letter was prompted by a surprise correspondence between Stroehlein and Karimova that started on Twitter on 1 December.

Seizing an opportunity, he urged her to condemn torture in Uzbekistan and express readiness to fight it. But she did not do it.

The Uzbek president’s daughter kept insisting that she had first had to learn about specific cases of torture and asked him to email them to her.

“I am sending…”

Stroehlein divided his letter into seven parts in which he provided human rights violations in Uzbekistan he knew about and evidence and facts collected by the UN and international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

The first part was devoted to “complete lack of political freedom and imprisonment of civil society activists” in Uzbekistan.

“In the 20 years since Uzbekistan gained independence from the Soviet Union, there has not been a single election deemed even remotely ‘free and fair’ by international monitoring bodies,” the letter reads.

“According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2011 report, President Islam Karimov uses ‘the dominant executive branch to repress all political opposition’.”

“As part of this intolerance of alternative views, the state has imprisoned dozens of human rights defenders, numerous journalists, political activists, and leading religious figures for no reason other than their legitimate and peaceful civil society activism,” he continued.
He then provided a list of political prisoners and urged their release in connection with the 20th anniversary of the country’s constitution which was demanded by nine prominent human rights organisations.

They are: Salijon Abdurahmanov, Azam Farmonov, Mehrinisso Hamdamova, Zulhumor Hamdamova, Isroil Holdarov, Nosir Isakov, Gaybullo Jalilov, Abdurasul Hudoynazarov, Erkin Kuziyev, Ganijon Mamathanov, Zafarjon Rahimov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, Agzam Turgunov and Gulnaz Yuldasheva.

Stroehlein detailed the case of Gulnara’s cousin, independent journalist Jamshid Karimov, who after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital where he had undergone forcible treatment between 2006 and 2011 had disappeared again.

He also detailed the case of torture experienced by Agzam Turgunov, the head of the Mazlum human rights organisation, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2008.

During an investigation in the Karakalpak capital of Nukus, an officer approached Turgunov from behind and poured several litres of boiling water onto him and he received burns on his had and back.

Stroehlein asked: "Look into this issue, examine these specific cases, and actively use whatever influence you have to secure the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, members of the political opposition, and other activists held on politically motivated charges."

Systematic torture

In the second part of the letter Stroehlein wrote about torture in detention centres and prisons in Uzbekistan.

He provided the case of the Soatov sisters Rayhon, Nargiza and Hosiyat of Tashkent who were arrested in May 2009 on hooliganism charges and robbery and were gangraped by police officers several times.

Rayhon Soatova got pregnant as a result of rape and gave birth in prison.

Stroehlein also requested: "Look into torture and ill-treatment and the accompanying culture of impunity. Use whatever influence you have to implement in full the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and the Committee Against Torture, and review the cases above specifically."

The media director also pointed out that the Uzbek authorities did not want to cooperation with UN institutions and the latest time UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven went to Uzbekistan was in 2002.

He urged Karimova as Uzbekistan permanent representative to the UN in Geneva to ensure that that her country provided independent observers, including UN rapporteurs with access.

Forced labour

Stroehlein wrote to Karimova about forced labour of adults and children million of whom the Uzbek authorities force to grow and pick cotton.

"Speak out against forced adult and child labour in the cotton sector," he urged Karimova.

As for the mass killings in Andijan on 13 May 2005, Karimova should ensure that those guilty of mass killings of protesters in Andijan face punishment and stop intimidation and other violations against Andijan refugees who returned to the country and those families who remain abroad.

Restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are another topic to which Stroehlein drew Karimova's attention.

Look into this issue, examine these specific cases, and actively use whatever influence you have to secure the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, members of the political opposition, and other activists held on politically motivated charges"

Andrew Stroehlein

Several independent journalists who remain in the country are working under a threat to their safety and lives, and at least ten of them are languishing in prison for simply doing their jobs.

"Speak out clearly in favour of freedom of expression in Uzbekistan and use whatever influence you have to protect journalists there from state harassment and imprisonment, and lift restrictions on websites routinely blocked by the state," Stroehlein urged.

The last topic of his letter is access for international organisations and media outlets that have been expelled from the country.

International nongovernmental organisations were started being expelled from Uzbekistan in 2004, he wrote. And lately the authorities have stopped allowing foreign journalists into the country even on short visits.

BBC journalist Natalya Antelava was deported from Tashkent in March.

Uzbekistan is the only country that has expelled Human Rights Watch in its 34-year-long history.

"Use your influence to ensure the country allows domestic and international human rights organisations to operate without government interference, including by promptly re-registering those that have been liquidated or otherwise forced to cease operating in Uzbekistan, and issuing visas and accreditation for staff of international nongovernmental organisations, including Human Rights Watch. Grant visas to international journalists, and allow media outlets to report freely from within the country," Stroehlein urged Karimova.