Uzbek authorities should immediately drop their criminal case against a prominent human rights activist whose trial is expected to conclude around September 16, 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should ask the courts to order his unconditional release.
Bobomurad Razzakov, who was detained on July 10, has been on trial since August 26 in the Bukhara region criminal court on fabricated charges of “human trafficking” in retaliation for his human rights work. Uzbekistan's international partners, including the United States and the European Union, should press the government to secure Razzakov's release and end the harassment of human rights defenders and activists.
“Razzakov has long campaigned against corruption and abuse of power in a region of Uzbekistan where many are afraid to speak out,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “His prosecution fits a typical pattern of fabricated criminal charges brought to silence human rights defenders and should be dropped immediately.”
Razzakov, 60, is the chairman of the Bukhara region branch of Ezgulik (Compassion), Uzbekistan's only legally registered independent human rights group. He is also a member of the unregistered political opposition party Erk (Freedom). Razzakov has worked as a local correspondent for foreign media and is known for taking on local corruption and appealing to the regional administration, the prosecutor's office, and the president on behalf of local farmers and others.
Authorities have used the “human trafficking” charge under article 135 of the Uzbek criminal code in numerous cases in recent years to imprison civil society activists and others they perceive to be disloyal to the government. The charge against Razzakov was based on the complaint of a local woman who accused him of forcing her into the custody of a person who pressed her into prostitution.
Razzakov told his colleagues at Ezgulik that the alleged victim approached him several days before his arrest asking his help in finding a relative in Russia who was missing. Razzakov's state-appointed lawyer believes the woman was pressured by Uzbek security services to testify falsely against him.
Razzakov faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.
In the month before his arrest, Razzakov told the media and local human rights groups that he came under increased pressure from the local security services in the Bukhara region over his human rights activities. On June 10 he was summoned for a two-hour interrogation by the head of Bukhara's counterterrorism criminal investigation unit in the Department of Internal Affairs, Alisher Andaev, who ordered him to resign from Ezgulik and cease all contact with foreign media organizations. Razzakov said that Andaev told him harm would come to him and his family if he did not stop his human rights work.
Local human rights defenders told Human Rights Watch they believe that the charge against Razzakov is fabricated and was initiated to punish him for his well-known human rights activities.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which Uzbek human rights defenders have faced malicious prosecution and trumped-up charges in similar circumstances. Typically, in cases that appear to be orchestrated by the authorities, a local person approaches the human rights defender, purportedly seeking aid, and later testifies against the activist. The rights defenders have often been accused of financial crimes such as fraud and extortion, but also of others such as human trafficking, kidnapping, and rape.
“Razzakov is a farmer and human rights activist respected in Bukhara and other parts of Uzbekistan for his independent human rights work and journalism,” Swerdlow said. “If Uzbek officials take issue with his reports on corruption and other abuses they should be willing to discuss them in the public sphere rather than locking him up on fake charges.”
Ezgulik has also come under increased pressure, with several of its representatives around the country being targeted for prosecution and imprisonment. In 2012, citing pressure from the local security services, one of its regional branch offices closed down.
Well over a dozen human rights defenders and numerous independent journalists and opposition activists are in prison in Uzbekistan in retaliation for their work or criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch said. Several are in serious ill-health and at least seven have suffered torture or ill-treatment in prison.
Since the Arab uprisings, the Uzbek government has widened its crackdown on independent civil society, including prosecuting rights activists and independent journalists on trumped-up charges. The government has arbitrarily detained and harassed many people who have peacefully expressed their opinions or pressed for their rights.
People imprisoned in Uzbekistan for expressing political and religious views are often denied due process and face torture and other ill-treatment at all stages of their investigations and incarceration.
“We are gravely concerned about the fate that most likely awaits Razzakov if he's convicted,” Swerdlow said. “The Uzbek government should live up to its international obligation to protect human rights defenders, and its international partners should hold Tashkent to this task.”