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Uzbekistan: Reveal Fate of Jailed Activist

Uzbekistan: Reveal Fate of Jailed Activist

Family Believes Man Sentenced for Denouncing Massacre

The Uzbek government must clarify the fate of an Uzbek human rights defender who was arrested after speaking out about the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters on May 13 in Andijan, Human Rights Watch said today. Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, chairman of the Andijan human rights group Appeliatsia (Appeal), has been in custody for almost eight months and is believed to have gone on trial two weeks ago.

“Uzbek authorities are hiding information about Zainabitdinov’s whereabouts,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “They should immediately tell Saidjahon’s family and the international community what has happened to him.”

Zainabitdinov’s trial is believed to have started on January 4. Uzbek authorities did not tell even his family about the place and the date of the trial. A week later, unconfirmed reports indicated that Zainabitdinov had been sentenced to seven years. To date, Uzbek authorities have not confirmed to Human Rights Watch whether the trial has even started or whether Zainabitdinov has already been sentenced.

Zainabitdinov had published bulletins about the May 13 demonstration and the massacre, based on eyewitness reports from others. He had also spoken out about the events; many news reports quoted Zainabitdinov’s description of the events, and his assessment of the human rights, political, and economic context in Uzbekistan.

He was charged with spreading false information to the media and spreading panic among the population, and arrested as he crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan on May 21. The Uzbek authorities claim that Zainabitdinov’s bulletins “were intended to cause panic among the population” and to undermine Uzbekistan’s public image. According to one official, Zainabitditnov was accused of giving false statements to journalists 49 times on May 13.

Prior to those events, he had also closely followed the cases of people in the region accused of “religious extremism” whose prosecution sparked the May 13 uprising in Andijan.

“Uzbek authorities are punishing Zainabitdinov for telling the world what happened in Andijan,” said Cartner. “He should be released immediately.”

Zainabitdinov’s family and lawyer have had no news of his whereabouts for almost eight months, and have been told only that he is in custody in Tashkent.

If Zainabitdinov has been convicted, it would be the latest in a series of drastic measures taken by the Uzbek government to shut down civil society groups and silence their leaders. Five members of the human rights organization Ezgulik (Goodness) were accused of a variety of offenses, including infringement on the life of the president and the constitution, distribution of materials that endanger security and public order, and “religious extremism.” They were tried on January 9. One was sentenced to five years and four were released on parole on January 11.

The five men were arrested at the end of May 2005 because they distributed copies of a May 15 statement by the opposition political party Birlik (Unity) about the Andijan events, entitled “The Killers of the People Will Answer before History.” Mukhtabar Tojibaeva (of the organization “Burning Hearts”), Sanjar Umarov and Nodira Khidoyatova, two leaders of the opposition group Sunshine Coalition, are in custody, pending trial on a variety of politically motivated charges. On January 12, the Civil Court of Tashkent ordered the non-governmental organization Freedom House to suspend its activities in Uzbekistan for the next six months. In the past year, several international organizations and media outlets including Internews, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and Eurasia Foundation have had their activities suspended or staff credentials revoked.

“The government’s crackdown on civil society is unprecedented, even in Uzbekistan’s 14-year history of repression since independence from the Soviet Union,” said Cartner.

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