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Human Rights Watch calls for release of two rights activists

Government effort to stop investigation into abuses in southern region

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - (New York, November 18, 2009) - The Kyrgyz authorities should immediately release the human rights activists Bakhrom Hamroev and Izzatilla Rakhmatillaev and allow them to continue their fact-finding work without further interference, Human Rights Watch said today.

Representatives of the Kyrgyz State Service for National Security (SSNS) arrested the two men tonight in Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan. Hamroev, a Russian citizen, works for the Russian rights group Memorial Human Rights Center. Rakhmatillaev is the head of Law and Order, an Osh group that investigates possible rights violations in southern Kyrgyzstan. Rakhmatillaev's son said his father's house was searched tonight. The activists were investigating accusations of government rights violations against individuals accused of extremism.

"The Kyrgyz government is out to stop research into abuses committed against so-called extremists in the region," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It is crystal clear that the two men were detained in retaliation for their work."

Hamroev arrived in Kyrgyzstan on November 10, 2009, to conduct research into alleged human rights violations by Kyrgyz government forces in cases of alleged religious extremism and terrorism. The two men were followed by National Security officers from the very beginning of their research. On November 13, agents told them to leave the Nookat district and prevented them from talking to family members of individuals accused by the government of being extremists. On November 17, a hotel manager in Jalal-Abad, another town in southern Kyrgyzstan, told Hamroev that he had received a verbal order from the National Security agents not to allow Hamroev to stay in the hotel for another night and to tell him he should leave the town.

This is not the first time a human rights activist has been arrested for investigating human rights violations in southern Kyrgyzstan. Hamroev's colleague at Memorial and director of its Central Asia program, Vitaly Ponomarev, was deported from Kyrgyzstan on February 26 and declared persona non grata. He had published a 24-page report about religious persecution and torture in Kyrgyzstan a month earlier.


Background on Nookat Events:

On October 1, 2008, local residents protested in front of the municipality building in Nookat. The protest was in response to a decision by local authorities not to allow a public celebration for Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, a celebration that is common throughout Kyrgyzstan. On October 13, the State Committee for National Security announced that it had detained 32 local people who had participated in the protests, alleging they were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic organization that is banned in several countries in the region.

At their trial in late November 2008, 30 of the defendants testified that they had been tortured and ill-treated, but the judge neither urged the prosecutor's office to investigate the allegations nor dismissed the evidence allegedly obtained under torture. The defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine to 20 years. In May, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court reviewed the case and upheld the verdicts. It slightly reduced the sentences for two women and three minors, but did not investigate the defendants' torture allegations.


Background on Hamroev:

Hamroev was a prominent leader of the Uzbek opposition party "Birlik" (Unity) until he fled to Russia in 1992 and has been a key activist in the Uzbek community in Russia ever since. Hamroev has played an integral role in Human Rights Watch's research on migrant workers from Central Asia in Russia. He became a Russian citizen in 1995.

At the end of October, Hamroev organized a picket line at the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow to protest the growing number of arrests of alleged extremists in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Hamroev has frequently been the target of harassment over the past several years in connection with his human rights activities in Russia. In July 2008, when he went to the Uzbek Embassy in Moscow to clarify some questions on behalf of Uzbek labor migrants, security staff at the embassy confiscated his passport and subsequently called him a "public enemy" and threatened to "tear his head off." Authorities returned his passport in September 2008.

On the evening of December 12, 2008, Hamroev was stopped by Russian authorities in Moscow and told his passport looked counterfeit. He was taken to a police station, where he was harassed and threatened for several hours for his human rights work and specifically for his work with Memorial. He was released later that night.

In July 2003, Hamroev was arrested by Russian police on charges of illegal possession of narcotic substances with the intent to sell. According to Hamroev the drugs were planted on him during his arrest, which he believes was in retaliation for his human rights work. In January 2004, Hamroev was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison. He was released on November 29, 2004, before the end of his term.

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