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Uzbekistan – human rights defender Agzam Turgunov fined and refused an exit visa

Turgunov AHRCA
Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) (based in exile in France), the unregistered organization Restoration of Justice (based in Uzbekistan) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) (based in Belgium) are concerned about travel restrictions recently imposed on human rights defender Agzam Turgunov on 30 August 2018, making it impossible for him to attend the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in mid-September. The organizations are also concerned that Agzam Turgunov was issued an administrative fine for filming police action during a peaceful protest the same day. It is believed that the exit ban may have been imposed in connection with Agzam Turgunov’s attempts to register the NGO Restoration of Justice, to lobby for the establishment of an independent commission to review politically-motivated cases in Uzbekistan and the administrative procedure against him following his arrest.
  
On 30 August 2018 Agzam Turgunov was told by an official at the Department for Visa and Passports (OVIR) of Tashkent City Department of Internal Affairs – that his request of 16 August 2018 for permission to leave Uzbekistan to travel abroad had been denied. On 3 September 2018 he requested information about the grounds for the refusal, but was told that there was no information available and that he could expect to receive a written reponse within a month.
   
Agzam Turgunov is a founding member of the human rights center Mazlum, he was arrested in July 2008 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment after a politically-motivated trial which did not meet international fair trial standards. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison in October 2017 and since that time has been working to register a new human rights organization, Restoration of Justice. He and recently-released journalist Dilmurod Sayyid have been lobbying for the establishment of an independent civil commission in Uzbekistan which would review politically-motivated sentences and provide legal support through the rehabilitation process.
  
Eyewitnesses report that on 29 August 2018 some 100 people gathered near the Supreme Court calling for miscarriages of justice to be reviewed. On the same day Agzam Turgunov visited the Supreme Court for a meeting regarding appeals he had sent. After noticing that representatives of the law enforcement services were being rude to participants of the rally he tried to film the incident on his smartphone. Three law enforcement officers in plainclothes approached him and, without showing any proof of identity, tried to confiscate his phone and dragged him into a car in a rough manner.
  
Agzam Turgunov says: "They grabbed me roughly and dragged me into a car. On the way to the police station, an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs grabbed my head and neck and began to strangle me in punishment for me refusing to give him my phone. I tried to pull his hands away."
  
Agzam Turgunov was held for over four hours at the 4th Police department of Tashkent and the photos and videos he took were destroyed. His colleagues and family were not informed of his whereabouts during this time. At 17:00 pm, Turguov was brought before a judge of Shayhontohur District Administrative Court who set a time for his hearing and released him at 18:00 pm. The detention record was drawn up only at 18:30 pm.
  
On 30 August 2018 Shayhontohur District Administrative Court in Tashkent held a hearing on the case and ruled to prosecute Agzam Turgunov under Article 194 ("Failure to comply with the lawful demands of a police officer") of the Administrative Code of Uzbekistan and imposed a fine of one month’s minimum wage. The court failed to take into account that the three police officers did not show Agzam Turgunov any proof of identity or introduce themselves when they tried to confiscate his phone, or that they used unnecessary force.
  
Observers and witnesses were initially not allowed to enter the court room. It took human rights defender Tatyana Dovlatova and a representative of the US Embassy a long time to negotiate access. Activists Malokhat Eshankulova, Zulfiya Khudoyberganova and Munis Ochilova gave evidence as witnesses for the defence. A district police inspector gave evidence for the prosecution but the law enforcement officials who detained Agzam Turgunov were not present in court.
  
The court failed to take into account that the three police officers did not show Agzam Turgunov any proof of identity or introduce themselves when they tried to confiscate his phone, or that they used unnecessary force.  Agzam Turgunov intends to appeal the decision of the court, and inform the UN special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights defenders.
  
"The recent decision to refuse to issue Agzam Turgunov with an exit visa clearly shows that pressure on human rights defenders remains high in Uzbekistan. Against the backdrop of announced reforms, we call on President Mirziyoyev’s government to cease the practice of punishing critics or perceived critics by refusing to allow them to travel abroad and issue Agzam Turgunov with an exit visa” said Brigitte Dufour, Director of International Partnership on Human Rights. 
  
At this time of reforms to the judicial system, it is all the more important that in practice, as well as on paper, everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law and that courts at every level respect this principle and examine cases fairly and objectively” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia.