Saturday, Jul 14th

You are here: Home publications report Key human rights concerns in Uzbekistan 

Key human rights concerns in Uzbekistan 

UZB EU site
AHRCA and IPHR Joint Briefing paper for EU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue, March 2018
     
Since he came to power President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his government have taken pains to try to improve Uzbekistan’s image in the eyes of the international community. They have taken some positive steps indicating a greater openness to engage on human rights and to facilitate external independent scrutiny of the situation in Uzbekistan. These steps include a programme of judicial reforms; allowing the first visit to Uzbekistan by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 2017, a visit by a UN special Rapporteur for the first time since 2002,  and allowing representatives of Human Rights Watch to visit in September for the first time since the Director of the Europe and Central Asia division paid a short visit in 2014.
  
Most notably, since President Mirziyoyev came to power in September 2016, at least 13 activists imprisoned on politically motivated grounds have been released.   However a further 12 remain behind bars, some of whom are serving long sentences in poor detention conditions.
  
Reform initiatives under Mirziyoyev‘s presidency
  
An action plan on judicial reform approved by the President in February 2017 aims to achieve genuine judicial independence; increasing the effectiveness and authority of the judiciary; and ensuring robust judicial protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens. One of the legislative changes reduced the maximum time a person could be detained before being brought before a judge from 72 to 48 hours. Human Rights organizations are concerned, however, that the Supreme Judicial Council created under the new administration to oversee the judiciary will be comprised of representatives of law enforcement authorities, as well as judges and external experts. All members of the Judicial Council will be appointed by the President, except the Chairperson whose candidature will be presented by the President for Parliamentary approval. Representatives of law enforcement authorities will thus be involved in the selection of judges and disciplinary proceedings. The new body therefore risks perpetuating the influence of the executive over the judiciary, jeopardizing the right to a fair trial and contributing to impunity for human rights violations.
      
Legislative steps to tackle torture: In a welcome development, on 30 November 2017, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree prohibiting the use in court of evidence obtained through torture, and forbade legal decisions on the basis of any evidence that was not confirmed during trial. The decree stipulates that the prosecutor in charge of the criminal case should check whether physical or psychological pressure has been used in relation to defendants or their relatives. President Mirziyoyev also spoke out against torture in December 2017 when addressing parliament. Simultaneously, amendments to the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan introduce criminal responsibility for falsifying evidence by making knowingly false statements, compelling someone to give evidence that is untrue, distorting the actual circumstances of the case resulting in unlawful detention, criminal liability or conviction of a person. Severe penalties for perjury were also introduced. The decree obliges law enforcement agencies to make video recordings of investigative activities such as inspection of the scene of a crime, searches, verification of evidence and investigative experiment. The decree came into force in March 2018.
     
Changes to the State Security Services (SNB): On 22 December 2017, President Mirziyoyev addressed parliament on the role of the State Security Services (SNB), saying that the agency had frequently obstructed the functioning of the justice system and decried the “groundless expansion of the agency’s powers.”  On 31 January 2018, the government announced the resignation and replacement of the head of the SNB Rustam Inoyatov, whose 22 year term was notorious for reports of pervasive torture and ill-treatment by the security services. Inoyatov was replaced by former Prosecutor General Ikhtiyor Abdullayev.  Neither the President nor Inoyatov have commented publicly on the reasons for his resignation and the SNB remains shrouded in secrecy, despite being an agency with a clear history of mass abuses of human rights.
    
However, the extent to which these reform initiatives will improve the overall human rights situation in practice remains difficult to assess at this stage. Many of the positive initiatives and legislation announced in 2017 are due to come into force in 2018 so it is yet too early to assess their impact. It is essential that human rights remain a priority theme in all discussions between the international community and the Uzbekistani authorities and that the country’s international partners continue to call for tangible and sustainable progress in this area.
   
Freedom of Expression
   
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared 2017 to be the “Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interest”,  issuing a Presidential Decree requiring state institutions to respond in a timely manner to citizens’ appeals. He set up a virtual reception service which gained popularity among the public as a way of reporting information on human rights violations to the Presidential Office as such appeals sometimes result in concrete action by the presidential administration. However, this service acts as a filter for complaints and positive results appear to depend primarily on winning support from the President. Thus, a genuine process of civic engagement is still in its early stages; and many state agencies are reportedly selective and reticent in their responses to complaints. For example, complaints and appeals from entrepreneurs and business people to official bodies often go unheeded, especially if they are critical of heads of administrations, tax departments and judicial bodies.
 
Freedom of the Press
   
In 2017 Uzbekistan saw tentative moves towards increased press freedom. Noted improvements included some national television coverage (such as by the new TV channel “Uzbekistan 24”) of parliamentary sessions, showing presidential addresses on issues of political, democratic and socio-economic development in the country. These addresses also concern some issues that were previously taboo for coverage such as corruption amongst state officials.  In addition, President Mirziyoyev more often publicly criticizes the work of high-ranking officials and state institutions and some coverage of this criticism is allowed in the media.
     
A sign of opening space in Uzbekistan was the fact that in November 2017, a BBC team was allowed limited access to the country for the first time in 12 years.
    
However, despite these developments, overall the Uzbekistani authorities maintain tight control over the media and independent voices. In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Uzbekistan at 169th out of 180 countries, going down by 3 points, from 166th in 2016.
   
In October 2017, the Uzbekistani authorities hosted the OSCE 19th Central Asian regional media conference in Tashkent, aiming to discuss media reform but the arrest of independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev just before it cast doubt over the genuine commitment of the government to reform in this area (see more below on his case). Uzbekistani legislation on the freedom of expression and the media, which includes over 40 different laws and more than 100 sub-legal acts. The complicated package of legislation, in particular by-laws and normative acts, continue to restrict freedom of expression and the ability to engage in independent journalism.
    
While media generally grew more emboldened to report on sensitive or controversial issues, this led to state restrictions in some cases. In April 2017, state television aired live discussions of current social, economic and other problems facing the country on the “International Press Club” programme. However, the programme was taken off air after the prime minister was criticised, and the programme was thereafter pre-recorded. State media journalists told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that the prime minister later ordered an end to all live broadcasts except the news. The director of the Uzbekistani National Television and Radio Company Bobur Alikhonov was dismissed in the wake of the controversy, making him the third head of the state broadcaster to lose his job since President Mirziyoyev came to power.
       
Although the President spoke out more openly with criticism of high ranking officials, individuals who do so or who express their opinions about government policies on social networks continue to be at risk of persecution, including by facing prosecution for “libel”. For example, on 21 February 2018 it was reported that 59-year-old Abbas Nasretdinov was charged with “libel” and “insult” under Articles 40 and 41 of the Administrative code in relation to comments he made about the administration in Uzbekistan including about Former President Karimov on Facebook. If found guilty, he could face a fine of between 420 and 840 USD.  On 23 February the court of first instance returned the case for further investigation of the sources quoted by Abbas Nasretdinov in his posts.
      
State control of access to the internet and to proxy servers used to avoid censorship remains tight, with public access to independent news websites and social media periodically restricted.  Media outlets in Uzbekistan operate under close state supervision and independent journalists risk reprisals for their professional activities. On 14 February 2018, Eurasia.net reported that websites previously blocked such as Fergana news, BBC news and Voice of America as well as human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were accessible to users in Uzbekistan. It remains to be seen if this unrestricted access to these sites is permanent or temporary.
   
State pressure against individuals who criticize the authorities
 
Long-overdue releases:  Since the beginning of 2017 at least 10 government critics imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds were released from detention including journalist and newspaper editor Muhammad Bekjanov; independent journalist Jamshid Karimov, who was released from the psychiatric hospital in Samarkand; former government official and UN employee Erkin Musaev;  independent journalist and human rights activist Azam Farmonov, human rights activist Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov; Agzam Turgunov,  head of the “Mazlum” human rights organization; human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhonov. Journalist and human rights activist Dilmorod Saidov was released from detention on 3 February 2018. On 22 February 2018 Isroil Kholdarov Chairman of the Andijan regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik" was released from detention. He was abducted in 2006 from Kyrgyzstan where he had applied for asylum and in February 2007 was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for encroachment on the constitutional order; illegal organization of a public association, illegal travel abroad, and distributing materials containing a threat to public safety after an unfair trial. His prison sentence was arbitrarily extended twice (in 2012 and in 2016) for alleged violations of prison rules.  On 2 March 2018, Ezgulik Human Rights Centre reported that Yusuf Ruzimuradov had been released from prison after spending 19 years behind bars. The independent journalist’s prison term ended in May 2017 and no information was available about the reasons for the delay in his release.
        
Working groups from a Special Commission established by President Mirziyoyev in September 2017 reviewed prisoners’ case files and conducted interviews with convicted persons.  As a result, in December 2017 President Mirziyoyev signed a decree pardoning 2,700 convicts, and 956 people were released from prison colonies, including people who were imprisoned on politically motivated grounds.  Amnesties and pardons can be in the form of a full or partial exemption from punishment, or conditional early release.
    
IPHR and AHRCA have been following the fates of those people included in the European Parliament Urgency Resolution of October 2014  as well as those of other individuals who have been deprived of their liberty on politically motivated grounds. According to our records, at least 12 human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and other government critics remained behind bars at the beginning of 2018.
   
The EU should ask the government of Uzbekistan to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of:
Human rights defenders – Mekriniso Khamadova, Zulkumor Khamadova, Gaybullo Dhalilov, Chuan Matmakulov, Zafarjon Rakhimov, Yuldash Rasulov, Fakhriddin Tillaev;
Independent journalists – Aziz Yusupov, Gairat Mikliboev,  and Bobomurod Abdullayev (see below); Hayot Nasreddinov (see below);
Dilorom Abdukodirova – a witness to the Andijan tragedy in 2005.
Although some sources report that employees of the academic journal Irmok  Botirbek Eshkusiyev, Bahrom Ibragimov, Davron Kabilov, Davron Todzhiev and Ravshanbek Vafoev who were imprisoned on accusations of being followers of Islamic scholar Said Nursi were released in 2015 and 2016, information about their release was not confirmed during the year. AHRCA was able to confirm that human rights defender and lawyer Matluba Kamilova, whose fate also had been unknown, was released in October 2015.
     
Further arrests of independent journalists and concerns about torture:
                            
Bobomurod AbdullayevThe detention of independent freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev by National Security Service (SNB) officials on 27 September 2017  in Tashkent indicates that independent journalists are still at risk of reprisals. Abdullayev previously headed the media organization OZOD OVOZ (Free Voice) and was a correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Fergana.ru, which is periodically blocked in Uzbekistan. After his arrest, he was held incommunicado in detention for two days at an SNB pre-trial detention centre in Tashkent and on 1 October 2017, was reportedly charged with anti-constitutional activities (article 159.4 of the Criminal Code) during a closed hearing at Yunusobad District Court in Tashkent. If he is found guilty he could face up to 20 years in prison. In November, the authorities extended his pre-trial detention by three months.
    
On 14 December 2017, Bobomurod Abdullayev was allowed to see his defence lawyer for half an hour and for the first time since he was arrested.  A SNB investigator was present throughout the meeting and a week later, in the presence of SNB guards, Abdullayev told his defence lawyer he preferred to be represented by a state-appointed lawyer. At a subsequent meeting with his wife later in December, Abdullayev asked her to inform his defence lawyer that he did want him to represent him.
      
Abdullayev’s meetings with relatives have also been restricted and there are serious reports from his relatives that he has been repeatedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment at the SNB pre-trial detention centre which is notorious for human rights violations against prisoners.  He was reportedly kept in a freezing cell naked and forced to stand for long periods of time. He was denied food on several occasions and repeatedly tied to a bed in his cell for several hours at a time. His wife was reportedly warned by SNB officials that speaking out about her husband’s treatment would have serious consequences for him.
  
On 8 February 2018, it was reported that two SNB officials implicated in the abuses had been suspended from the case and had been told not to leave the city pending an investigation.
      
However, the first court hearing of the criminal case against Bobomurod Abdullayev, Hayot Nasreddinov and others took place on 7 March 2018. The judge ordered that claims of torture from Abdullayev and Nasreddinov be investigated. The other two defendants did not complain of being tortured. The judge approved a forensic medical examination into the injuries Abdullayev sustained while in detention.
  
On 20 October 2017 economist, blogger, journalist and civic activist Hayot Nasreddinov  was also arrested on politically-motivated charges related to those against Bobomurod Abdullayev. His relatives have not yet been informed of the grounds for the arrest, and there are fears that they have been put under pressure not to talk to journalists. He is currently being held in a SNB pre-trial detention centre in Tashkent. If convicted he could face up to 20 years in prison. Nasreddinov’s defence lawyer told the judge at the hearing on 7 March 2018 that Nasreddinov had been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in detention.
  
Following Abdullayev’s arrest, others were also implicated in the criminal case against him, including Akrom Malikov, 27-year old employee of the Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences who was detained by the SNB in 2016 in connection with critical articles allegedly published in opposition publications online.  He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in January 2017 after an unfair trial where he was not allowed to be represented by the lawyer of his choice. His family has refused to speak to journalists about the case.
    
Individuals prohibited from entering and exiting the country
 
In August 2017, President Mirziyoyev announced that thousands of people had been taken off a travel “blacklist” for entering and exiting the country and called on those previously blacklisted who live abroad to return to Uzbekistan. However, when writer Nurullo Otahonov (pen name Nurulloh Muhammad Raufhon) returned to Tashkent on 27 September 2017 from exile he was detained at the airport.  He was released on 1 October, but at the end of the year, he reportedly faced charges of extremism for his book “Bu Kunlar” (These Days), which criticizes the Uzbekistani authorities’ actions since independence. The book is banned in Uzbekistan.
  
Other travel restrictions for dissidents
 
Citizens critical of the authorities continue to have their freedom of movement restricted. In particular, people with links to international human rights organizations, independent journalists, former political prisoners and their relatives, and people who have publicly criticised the authorities often encountered problems obtaining exit visas to travel outside the country.  In August 2017, the Uzbekistani authorities announced that starting 1 January 2019, Uzbekistani citizens will no longer be required to apply for permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to leave the country and travel abroad.
   
However, former political prisoners still face difficulties in obtaining permission to travel abroad to undergo medical treatment or to join their family members who have fled the country.
   
For example, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Erk who was released in February 2017 was under police supervision until 22 February 2018.  He has not yet been given permission to leave the country.
  
Human rights defender and writer Mamadali Makhmudov, who was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down on politically motivated grounds, was not granted an exit visa, for which he has repeatedly applied since June 2016. He was therefore not able to leave the country for medical treatment. Makhmudov has heart, stomach and kidney problems and needs a pacemaker fitted.
  
Other individuals not in detention, but who criticize or who are perceived to criticize the Uzbekistani authorities have also been arbitrarily denied permission to leave Uzbekistan. Artist Vyacheslav Akhunov finally obtained permission to travel abroad on 20 December 2017, after repeated requests since 2012.  Akhunov previously learned from a contact that the refusal was due to his continued criticism of the authorities on social media.
  
Swift action is needed to ensure that former political prisoners are allowed to travel abroad for necessary medical treatment. Former prisoner and Member of Parliament Murad Djuraev was released from detention in 2016. He applied repeatedly for an exit visa which was finally issued to him, after international pressure, on 7 October 2017. Tragically he died from a heart attack on 4th December 2017, before he had a chance to leave Uzbekistan. He was 65 years old.
   
In addition, a number of independent International observers and human rights activists from abroad  remain banned from visiting Uzbekistan, including Evgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law who was banned in 2003 after speaking at a meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Russian anthropologist Sergei Abashin was informed by the Presidential virtual complaints service in October 2017 that he was banned from Uzbekistan as he had previously violated rules of the visa regime, although he was not informed about this at any point before and has no recollection of doing so.  Human rights defender Tolekan Ismailova from Kyrgyzstan was deported from Uzbekistan in 2013 and has not been allowed to return since. Former BBC correspondent Natalya Antelava is also banned.
     
Journalists, bloggers and human rights activists face other harassment
        
In addition to imprisoning government critics, the authorities continue to use other methods of persecution against human rights activists, independent journalists and other individuals who speak out and voice their opinion or opposition to government policy. Such individuals are subjected to police interrogations, arbitrary arrests and other pressure.
  
For example: 
    
On 1 March 2017, well-known and outspoken human rights defender, Elena Urlaeva, was arbitrarily detained by law enforcement authorities and forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic until 23 March 2017. Urlaeva was detained prior to a meeting scheduled for 2 March with international organizations to discuss the issue of forced labour in Uzbekistan. In February 2018, Michael Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders expressed his concern ‘that the alleged arbitrary detention of Ms. Urlaeva may have been used to stymie her legitimate work in the defence of human rights and her engagement with international organizations.’
     
On 14 April 2017, independent journalist Aleksei Volosevich  was detained for 18 hours by police in the town of Gazli, Bukhara region after he took photos of the city. He was detained and taken to the regional police station in Romitansky District of Gazli, where police took his fingerprints, erased the photos in his camera and confiscated his memory cards. He was informed that he had been detained “for taking photos without permission”, although this is not in violation of the law. No charges were ultimately brought against him. Volosevich has previously been arrested on several occasions in connection with his professional activities. 
  
Farruh Yusupov, a Tajik correspondent for RFE/RL living in exile, suffered harassment in what is believed to be in retaliation for his participation in an ongoing official investigation into corruption involving late President Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova. A film shown on Fergana regional television on 22 April 2017 accused him of treason and drug -trafficking. The film also stated that since he sought asylum in Uzbekistan during the 1992-1997 civil war in Tajikistan, he should not criticise the state that has granted him refuge. This was not the first time that Yusupov was publicly discredited. Yusupov’s family members in Uzbekistan have also been subjected to surveillance and harassment because of his professional activities. 
 
On 7 November 2017, artist Aleksandr Barkovski was detained for a few hours and questioned for an hour at the police department at Bukhara train station after taking photographs of a public toilet. 
 
Independent journalist Sid Yanishev was detained twice in November and December 2017. On 12 December, he was detained for 14 hours in the Tashkent village of Almazar, during which he was questioned by local police officers who confiscated his camera and Dictaphone. He was subsequently transferred to the regional police department of Shaikhantursky District of Tashkent, where his fingerprints were taken. In order to be released from detention, Yanishev had to agree to “voluntarily” delete all information from his camera and Dictaphone. 
  
On 22 February 2018, representatives of the delegation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) met with representatives of civil society in Uzbekistan. The human rights situation inside the country was discussed during these meetings. AHRCA learned that on the day of the EBRD meetings three of the independent NGO participants noticed they were being followed by representatives of the Central Internal Affairs Directorate of Tashkent (GUVD). 
   
Repression of religious communities 
 
The Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations was one of the first to be adopted after Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991.  However, in practice, the Uzbekistani authorities strictly control the exercise of religion, in particular the independent practice of Islam.   The exercise of freedom of conscience, thought, religion or belief is over-regulated and persecution on religious grounds impedes citizens from enjoying this right, as well as their right to freedom of association.
  
In many situations, people have been convicted of terrorism or encroaching on the constitutional order without credible evidence, and some have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for practicing their beliefs or belonging to a religious minority community. The UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion and belief, Ahmed Shaheed, visited Uzbekistan in October 2017. He stated: “Religions or beliefs should not be seen as a threat to Uzbekistan, where many ethnic and religious communities live together peacefully... Resilience against religious extremism can be built on strengthening diversity as well as freedom of religion or belief.” The Special Rapporteur advised that rights to freedom of religion cannot be sacrificed in the name of the fight against extremism and called for a widening of civic space and the freedom of association, assembly and expression as well as the implementation in practice of legislative reforms. A full mission report is forthcoming.
   
In Uzbekistan, each law enforcement agency maintains its own “black list “ of individuals, with the SNB “black list” governing those who have been suspected or accused of crimes religious crimes or crimes against the constitution, extremism, participation in banned organizations or the distribution of banned materials.
  
On 15 June 2017, President Mirziyoyev held a video conference with over 10,000 Imams and religious community leaders from all over Uzbekistan.  According to one participant who spoke to RFE/RL, the president called for a re-examination of the cases of Muslims who had been “blacklisted” and instructed Imams to work with those people who had been convicted on religious grounds and their families.  Those who are on the “blacklist” suffer discrimination in relation to employment and access to social support. According to the press, the president acknowledged that some Muslims had been imprisoned and prosecuted for “small violations”. President Mirziyoyev reportedly stated  that special commissions comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Interior, security services and the Prosecutor’s Office, as well as Islamic representatives and local authorities, would be established in each region to review such cases and initiate measures to acquit those concerned.
   
At the beginning of 2018, Minister of Internal Affairs Pulat Babdzhonov was reported as stating that 18 000 people had been taken off the “blacklists” of participants in “extremist religious organizations” in the course of 2017.   Nevertheless, the pattern of persecution of independent Muslims, as well as members of other religious minority communities continues. However, security forces continue to detain people who they accuse of being members of banned “extremist” groups.
                                                         
In a recent example, information received by AHRCA on 17 January 2018 indicated that in Urgench, western Uzbekistan, a Christian woman was summoned and questioned for three hours by officials at the Service for the Fight against Terrorism. She was asked about a recent trip to Russia and accused of having “liked” a religious clip on social media, thereby disseminating prohibited religious information. She was threatened with criminal punishment.
   
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly 
   
Overall situation
     
Uzbekistani law protects the right to participate in peaceful meetings and demonstrations. Although the law provides that the organizers of meetings do not need to seek permission but only notify the authorities in advance, existing regulations perpetuated a system where advance permission in practice was needed. For example, a requirement introduced in 2016 stipulates that any written material that will be disseminated during an assembly should be submitted to the Ministry of Justice a month before the date of the planned meeting.  This requirement restricts the possibility for people to organize meetings at short notice or to gather spontaneously and provides the Ministry of Justice with the opportunity to delay permission for the distribution of materials, and hence disrupt assemblies.  
  
Still no justice for the Andijan tragedy
   
Uzbekistan’s history of protest is marred by the use of excessive force. To date, the Uzbekistani authorities have yet to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the events of 13 May 2005, when law enforcement and security forces indiscriminately fired at a crowd of protesters in Babur Square, Andijan. Demonstrators had peacefully gathered to voice their grievances over repressive government policies and economic hardships. According to officials, 187 people were killed, but unofficial estimates put the number at between 500 and 1500. None of the officials involved in the shooting have been brought to justice.
  
Few peaceful protests
 
Against the background described above, many citizens remain fearful of reprisals for protesting and are therefore reluctant to participate in demonstrations. However, over 2017 some small peaceful protests were held with varying reactions from the authorities.
During a visit by President Mirziyayev to Navoi region on 28 March 2017,  dozens of women and elderly from the village of Tasmachi in Khatirchinsky region travelled by bus to meet him and protest over insufficient electricity supply, high food prices and local corruption. However, the villagers claimed that the local authorities and traffic police blocked the roads out of the village to prevent them from meeting the president. 
Fergana News Agency  reported that on 15 August 2017, a spontaneous rally was held by hundreds of people outside the Supreme Court in Tashkent. Angered by the long wait for appointments the crowd of several hundred people reportedly pushed against the iron gates in front of the court, eventually breaking them down. Fergana quoted an eye witness as saying, “You should have seen what power these people demonstrated – they went into the court yard and building… the guards were running around everywhere… people’s nerves are exhausted”. On 19 August, the Supreme Court issued a communiqué  refuting the Fergana report. The Uzbek service of RFE/RL reported eyewitness accounts confirming the incident.
According to the Fergana News Agency, on 22 August 2017, 85- year-old pensioner Nina Sahartseva and 80-year-old Yulia Syavich from Tashkent were standing with signs asking to meet President Mirziyoyev outside the presidential administration building in Tashkent.  After two hours, officials from the presidential administration came out and one grabbed the elderly women roughly by the hands and doused them with water as a result of which they were forced to leave.
Public mobilization in response to student’s death
    
The public response to a situation of alleged bullying resulting in a student’s death illustrates the evolving nature of civic engagement and public demonstrations in Uzbekistan. On 1 June 2017, Zhasurbek Ibragimov, a student at the Borovskiy Medical College, died in Tashkent after being beaten up by unknown assailants on 3 May. Civic activists Irina Zaidman and Maria Legler organized an online petition calling on the Uzbekistani authorities to find those responsible for Zhasurbek’s death and bring them to justice. The petition received unprecedented public support and was signed by over 20 000 persons. At a rally held in Duslik Park on 4 June, Deputy Chief of the Tashkent Central Internal Affairs Directorate Doniyor Tashkhodzhaev assured the participants that this tragic case would be thoroughly investigated. However, on 15 November 2017, Zaydman was summoned to the police station, where she was detained. Police officers searched her house on the same day. The next day she and Legler were found guilty of organizing an unsanctioned meeting and sentenced to ten and 15 days of administrative detention, respectively.  Neither woman had a lawyer present at the closed hearing when they were sentenced, which is a violation of the Criminal Procedural Code of Uzbekistan.
 
ANNEX
Individual cases:
Update on developments in case of torture of Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov: On 28 November 2016, a number of human rights organizations including IPHR and AHRCA called for a thorough, impartial investigation into the alleged torture of two brothers in custody of the Uzbekistani National Security Service. Ilhom Ibodov died in a National Security Service detention facility in Bukhara in September 2015, after allegedly being tortured.  His brother, Rahim Ibodov, was also allegedly tortured and sentenced to eight years.  Both men had reportedly refused to comply with extortion demands from SNB officers and threatened to expose alleged corruption in the security service, and were arrested for “administrative violations” and later charged with tax and other commercial offences. Rahim Ibodov was released from detention conditionally in 2017 due to ill health. On 10 February 2018 court bailiffs confiscated property from the Ibodov family home, as stated in the 2016 court ruling. Last week the Prosecutor summoned Rahim Ibodov and informed him that one of the officials allegedly responsible for torturing him and his brother had been arrested and that Rahim’s case would be reviewed in Tashkent.
 
The Uzbekistani authorities should review the criminal conviction as it was based on evidence and testimony obtained through torture and other ill-treatment. They should rescind the decision on confiscation of property until the criminal case is reviewed. 
Shukhrat Musin was recognized as a refugee in Kyrgyzstan in July 2010, on the grounds of religious persecution.  He was reportedly abducted on 18 February 2013 and resurfaced two months later in Andijan, where he was subsequently sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.
     
Please inquire about the state of health and current whereabouts of Shukhrat Musin, who is still a recognized refugee and as such should enjoy international protection. Please call on the Uzbekistani authorities to launch an investigation into the circumstances of Musin’s return from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Andijan, Uzbekistan and bring those responsible for the abduction and forcible return to justice.
Davron Komoliddinov is serving 7 years from 2015 for reposting a post on the social media site “Classmates” (Odnoklassniki). An Uzbekistani citizen, he was arrested in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, in April 2015 following an extradition request from Uzbekistan. His relatives were informed in September 2015 that he was being held in a Tashkent prison. He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of incitement to ethnic, racial or religious hatred (Article 156) and crimes against the constitution (Article 159) in an unfair trial where he was represented by a state appointed lawyer. There are concerns that Komoliddinov was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to force him to confess.
  
The case against Davron Kamoliddinov should be reopened, because the charges were based on self-incriminating evidence which was allegedly obtained through the use of torture and other ill-treatment. The accusations that Kamoliddinov disseminated banned information (in the form of a photograph of an Uzbek religious figure) are complicated because in Uzbekistan there is no publicly available list of banned organizations, information and literature. 
Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev was arrested on 9 January 2016 as he flew from Seoul in South Korea to Tashkent on the way to visit his parents in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Bakhtiyor was detained after security officials at the airport allegedly found recordings of prayers and verses from the Koran on his mobile phone as well as news items about the 2010 ethnic unrest in Osh downloaded from the internet. He was subsequently charged under Article 244-2 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan (Production and distribution of materials containing threat to public security and public order). Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev and his parents deny the charges and maintain that he has only exercised his faith in a peaceful. There were reports that he was tortured and ill-treated while in detention. In autumn 2016 he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.
Call on the Uzbekistani authorities to initiate an investigation into the allegations of torture of Bakhtiyor Khudayberdiev in 2016 while in SNB detention, and call for a review of the criminal case against him as the video of the Osh events found on his mobile telephone cannot be considered “banned” information as it is openly available on internet, as are the verses from the Koran found on his phone.
  
Recommendations: 
   
Immediate and unconditional release these and all others who have been imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds as a demonstration of the serious commitment of the Uzbekistani authorities to the protection of fundamental rights as set out in the constitution.
 
Immediate and unconditional release of independent journalists Bobomurod Abdullayev and Khayot Nasreddinov from pre-trial detention and for a thorough and effective investigation to be conducted into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment used against them and for those found guilty to be brought to justice in a fair trial.  Ensure that their relatives and lawyers are protected from reprisals;
 
Ask the Uzbekistani authorities to provide information on the state of health of imprisoned human rights defender Fakhriddin Tillaev who was subjected to torture during the criminal investigation against him and forced to confess;
  
Ensure an end to the practice of law enforcement authorities arbitrarily detaining human rights activists, journalists, bloggers and ensure that such incidents are effectively and thoroughly investigated and the results made public;
  
To issue an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Freedom of expression to visit the country; 
  
Ensure transparency by publishing a list of banned organizations and banned literature.
   
Immediate review of the criminal cases against Shukhrat Musin, Davron Kamoliddinov and Bakhtiyar Khudoiberdiyev, who were allegedly tortured during investigations and in whose cases the criminal charges were based on public materials which had no connection to prohibited or banned materials.