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Rights activist arrested

Activitist defended farmers from corrupt land grabs

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, August 18, 2009 - Uzbek authorities should immediately drop any unsubstantiated criminal charges against Oyazimhon Hidirova, chairman of the Arnasai Branch of the International Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, and free her from pre-trial detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hidirova was arrested on July 28, 2009 at the Arnasai District Department of Internal Affairs on preliminary charges of hooliganism (two counts), fraud, and tax evasion. Human Rights Watch is concerned that Hidirova's arrest and prosecution may be in retaliation for her efforts to expose corruption by agricultural officials in Arnasai, a district in the Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan. Since 2004 she has been a member of the International Human Rights Organization, one of the few human rights groups that have been permitted to register in Uzbekistan.

"Hidirova's work to expose official corruption and abuse of farmers may well have led to her arrest," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Over and over again, the Uzbek government shows it cannot tolerate anyone who speaks out against its corrupt and abusive practices."

Hidirova was detained for failing to report to the Department of Internal Affairs for questioning. She had been summoned after an allegation by the chairman of the local farm collective, Almaz Sodikov, on June 25, that Hidirova had attacked him during an altercation, causing him a minor injury. As a result of the alleged assault, Hidirova was charged with one count of hooliganism.

The second count of hooliganism (for allegedly insulting a representative of the regional government and threatening to blow up a regional government building) and the tax evasion and fraud charges were added after she was detained, said Ziyodullo Razakov, Hidirova's public defender (a non-lawyer who acts alongside a defendant's lawyer in criminal proceedings) and chairman of the Jizzakh branch of the International Human Rights Organization. Razakov believes the additional allegations were added to imprison her because the sole hooliganism charge would have been insufficient to justify pre-trial detention.

Razakov says that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the additional charges brought against Hidirova. The prosecution alleges that Hidirova failed to pay 2,971,100 soms (approx. US$1,970) in taxes from 2006 to 2008. The fraud charges arise from allegations made by one of her workers, who claims that she sold him farm collective land for 4,500,000 soms (approx. US$3,000). Hidirova denies the allegations.

The second count of hooliganism and tax evasion allegations made by Hidirova's two accusers are due to be tested starting on August 18, 2009 at the Arnasai District Department of Internal Affairs, during the "initial confrontation" (ochana stavka), a part of the initial investigation in which two witnesses or suspects with different stories confront each other. Hidirova's lawyer, Lapas Kamolov, was informed about the ochana stavka on August 13. Another "initial confrontation" for the fraud charge was held on July 30.

Following her arrest, Hidirova was held at the Arnasai Detention Facility until July 31. On that day, Judge Lutfullo Mamarajabov of the Arnasai District Criminal Court approved her arrest and ordered that Hidirova be remanded in custody during the investigation, ignoring the defense's request that she be allowed to stay at home during the investigation to care for her two children. Upon hearing that she was to remain in custody and already weak from a two-day hufnger strike to protest her arrest, Hidirova fainted. She spent the night in a hospital, and was transferred to Dustlik Detention Facility the next day.

Kamolov appealed the decision, but on August 3 the Jizzakh Regional Criminal Court upheld her arrest and detention. The prosecution contended that there was a risk that she would go into hiding or would interfere in the investigation. On August 5, Hidirova was moved to the Khavast Detention Facility.

On August 13, Hidirova's lawyer got a call from M. Nazirov, who said that he was the new investigator and that Ilkhom Abdurasulov had been dismissed from the case. Hidirova reportedly had refused to answer Abdurasulov's questions because he is related to Sodikov, the man who made the original assault allegation against her.

Hidirova's house was searched on the morning of July 29, the day after she was arrested. According to Razakov, a police officer, the deputy director of the Department of Internal Affairs, and Abdurasulov, the investigator formerly assigned to her case, searched her house. Hidirova's husband asked who they were and what they wanted, and they introduced themselves and showed a search warrant, Razakov said. The men said they were searching for weapons, narcotics, or banned religious literature and CDs, but nothing was found or confiscated, Razakov said.


BACKGROUND:

On June 5, Hidirova wrote a letter addressed to President Islam Karimov, Prosecutor General Rashidjan Kodirov, the country's ombudsman, Sayora Rashidova and other officials, raising the issue of repeated, unlawful land confiscation and re-sale by Faizullo Salokhiddinov, the district hokkim, or head of the regional government. In her letter, she alleged that Salokhiddinov had seized 17 hectares of her land and sold it. She also alleged that Salokhiddinov and District Prosecutor Dilshod Boinazarov had summoned her and threatened her with imprisonment if she did not "keep quiet." The letter said that if the land were not returned to her, she would carry her protest to the capital.

Ziyodullo Razakov, chairman of the Jizzakh branch of the International Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, said that Salokhiddinov had illegally seized about 600 hectares of land in one farm-collective alone.

Hidirova received several responses to her letter, including from the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ombudsman, and the National Center for Human Rights. In the letter issued by the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Jizzakh regional prosecutor was asked to investigate Hidirova's allegations and inform the office of the measures being taken by July 28. According to Razakov, no action has been taken to date.

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