Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Political Prisoners in Central Asia
Former Political Prisoner
Senior Policy Analyst,
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Europe and Central Asia Research Associate,
Committee to Protect Journalists
The Hearing Was Held at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2203 Rayburn House Office Building,
Washington, D.C., Moderated by Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA)
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Federal News Service
MARK MILOSCH: Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone joining us today. As
Chairman Smith’s staff director at the Helsinki Commission, I’ll make a brief
statement and then Janice Helwig, staff adviser with the commission, will
introduce our panelists.
Unfortunately, political prisoners and prisoners of conscious still exist in
several of the countries that emerged from the USSR, and generally speaking, in
larger numbers in the five countries of Central Asia, than in the rest of the
Soviet Union. Particularly Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have some of the
highest numbers of political prisoners in the former Soviet Union. While each
country in Central Asia is different, there are worrying trends in all five. I
will give the outline.
Uzbekistan. In Uzbekistan, human rights activists, journalists, and in large
numbers, members of certain religious groups continue to be imprisoned. There
are many political prisoners that on whom little documentation is available. I
would like to mention a few cases on which we have more information.
And remember here the realities of imprisonment in Uzbekistan. A recent State
Department assessment of the situation listed serious concerns, including
allegations of torture and poor prison conditions. Elena Bondar is an
independent journalist. Recently she was convicted in a rushed and unfair
trial for inflammatory remarks on the Internet, despite a lack of evidence
linking her to the statements. Abdulaziz Dadahanov was jailed after returning
from a student exchange program in the U.S. for allegedly belonging to a
moderate Turkey-based religious group Nur. Human Rights activist Elena Urlaeva
has once again been placed in a psychiatric institution. And in January,
Muhammad Bekjanov, who’s been behind bars since 1999 and was due to be
released, received an additional five-year term.
We welcome the April release of human rights activist Alisher Karamatov.
In Turkmenistan, it is difficult even to estimate the number of political
prisoners or prisoners of conscience. And the justice system lacks
transparency, trials are closed in political cases, and in general, the overall
level of repression is so high there, it precludes independent human rights
monitoring. Yet there are several well-known human rights prisoners, including
Annakurban Amanklychev, Sapardurdy Khajiev. Their colleague Ogulsapar
Muradova, who was arrested with them, died two weeks into her sentence,
reportedly from torture. For years the Turkmen government has refused to
disclose the fate and whereabouts of about 50 political prisoners accused in an
alleged 2002 plot against former President Niyazov, including former foreign
ministers Boris Shikhmuradov and Batyr Berdiev. These prisoners have not been
heard from since 2002.
Tajikistan has enacted a restrictive religion law resulting in the arrest of
many accused of belonging to a long list of religious groups. And in 2012 the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended for the first
time that Tajikistan be designated a country of particular concern, along with
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which USCIRF has recommended for this –
(inaudible) – status in previous years.
Regarding Kazakhstan, while we welcome the release of human rights activist
Yevgeny Zhovtis, we are concerned that several opposition activists have been
detained in the wake of the violent crackdown on protesters late last year in
Kyrgyzstan does not have the same issues with political prisoners as its
neighbors. But we continue to be concerned about the unfair conduct of trials
following the ethnic violence in June 2010, which appear to have been biased
against ethnic Uzbeks and human rights activists supporting them, including
While some governments claim that ensuring stability and fighting extremism are
paramount, laws restricting political participation, independent journalism,
civil society and religious freedom may have the opposite effect. Given the –
given the stubborn persistence of repression, politicized justice and poor
conditions in prison, the Helsinki Commission has convened this briefing to
raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners and prisoners of
conscience and to examine what our government can do about it.
Now I will turn the briefing over to Janice Helwig, the Policy Adviser of the
Commission who covers Central Asia. She will moderate the briefing. At this
point I would – I would make one more comment. We expect one or more of our
commissioners to arrive in the next half an hour or so. And when they do, the
commissioner will – (inaudible) – chair the briefing.
JANICE HELWIG: Thank you, Mark. I’ll introduce our panelists. We have Dr.
Sanjar Umarov, who is chairman of the Sunshine Coalition and a former political
prisoner in Uzbekistan. Shortly after Dr. Umarov became chairman of the
Sunshine Coalition in 2005 he was arrested and sentenced to 14 ½ years. He’s
been recognized as a prisoner of conscience and was amnestied on humanitarian
grounds in November 2009.
We have Mr. Muzaffar Suleymanov, Europe and Central Asia research associate
from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mr. Suleymanov is a contributor to
several Central Asia news websites and has co-authored numerous CPJ
publications, including a 2009 investigative report on impunity in journalist
murders in Russia.
And we also have Cathy Cosman, who’s a senior policy analyst at the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom. She has also worked for Human
Rights Watch, the Free Trade Union Institute, the OSCE mission in Estonia, the
National Endowment for Democracy, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the
Helsinki Commission. (Chuckles.) Welcome back, Cathy.
I’m going to ask Mr. Suleymanov to speak first, followed by Ms. Cosman and then
Dr. Umarov. Thank you.
MUZAFFAR SULEYMANOV: Thank you. Chief of staff Mark Milosch, members of the
commission, dear guests, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this
important hearing on political prisoners in Central Asia. My name is Muzaffar
Suleymanov, and I am research associate for Europe and Central Asia program at
the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is an – it is an honor to speak to
I will focus my testimony on journalists currently imprisoned in retaliation
for their work in two of the region’s countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Before I discuss CPJ’s concerns about these countries, I would like to commend
U.S. President Barack Obama for endorsing the fight for press freedom in the
statement on May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day. As Obama noted, societies
worldwide begin to suffer when self-censorship – spurred by, among other
threats, the fear of retaliatory imprisonment – becomes the guiding principle
in local newsrooms or bloggers’ apartments.
As guarantors of human rights and freedoms, world leaders must hold Central
Asian regimes responsible for denying global access to information by throwing
critical reports behind bars. A culture of impunity for such actions must not
be allowed to persist in any countries, Obama said in his statement. We fully
support this call and urge immediate action towards repressive regimes in
Despite their constitutional mandate to guarantee freedom of the press,
regional governments have either sanctioned repression of the media or been
directly responsible for it. In the past decade, President Islam Karimov’s
authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan firmly cemented its name as one of the worst
jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia. At least five independent
journalists remain in Uzbek prisons. In fact, until last November Karimov’s
own nephew languished in a psychiatric ward after he was put there in
retaliation for his critical reporting in September 2006.
And authorities in Kyrgyzstan, where leaders have publicly declared their
commitment to human rights and the rule of law, shamelessly imprisoned
investigative journalist Azimjon Askarov for life. It is the only country in
the region where authorities have handed a life sentence to a critic.
Although no other government in the region has a high record of imprisoned
journalists, all of them are infamous for their anti-press practices. In June
2006, Turkmen authorities arrested Ogulsapar Muradova, a local correspondent
for U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and sentenced her
to six years in prison in August. She mysteriously died in jail a month later.
Urinboy Usmonov, a BBC World Service correspondent, was one of two independent
journalists imprisoned in Tajikistan in 2011 in direct connection to their
work. Igor Vinyavsky, whose newspaper criticized the violent police crackdown
in – on protesting oil workers in western Kazakhstan, spent two months in
prison earlier this year on spurious extremism and anti-state charges. These
and many other cases illustrate the continuing threats that critical
journalists face, which has gradually led to their use of self-censorship as a
I shall now focus on the press freedom records of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbekistan ranks sixth on CPJ’s 2012 list of world’s top 10 censors of the
press. Indeed, the country has long been in CPJ’s spotlight. The crackdown on
critical journalists and media outlets peaked seven years ago in the aftermath
of May 2005 massacre in the eastern city of Andijan and resulted in the de
facto eradication of the independent press in the country.
Since then authorities have banned reporting without accreditation and harassed
the few remaining independent journalists, prosecuted reporters on defamation
and ambiguous “insult of the nation” charges, and banned foreign – and denied
entry to foreign correspondents. Domestic access to critical news websites
remains blocked, and foreign broadcasts are also jammed, according to CPJ
But it is imprisonment of journalists on fabricated criminal charges that
secured Uzbekistan’s spot among the world’s leading enemies of the press. In
1999 Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, journalists for the opposition
newspaper Erk, were convicted on fabricated anti-state charges and sentenced to
14 and 15 years in prison, respectively. Both reporters have spent time in
jail – more time in jail than any other journalists worldwide, according to CPJ
Earlier this year authorities handed Bekjanov another five-year prison term,
just days before he was due to be released. In addition, the government has
not disclosed the health, condition or status of Ruzimuradov. CPJ’s letter to
the embassy of Uzbekistan, sent last November, remains unanswered.
Two other journalists were given hefty prison terms following ostensibly marred
prosecutions. Salijon Abdurakhmanov, a contributor to the exile-run
independent outlet Uznews, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2008 after
being charged with drug possession for personal use. Abdurakhmanov was
arrested after his car was searched by police, who said they found small
amounts of marijuana and opium in the trunk. Although lab results showed that
the journalist had no traces of narcotics in his blood, and investigators were
unable to establish chain of custody or find fingerprints on the package,
authorities jailed him after amending his charges.
Abdurakhmanov was being tried and sentenced at the same time that Uzbek
officials were persuading the European Union to lift its sanctions, imposed
directly after the Andijan massacre, by arguing their commitment to human
rights and press freedom.
In 2009 authorities sentenced Dilmurod Sayid, an independent journalist from
Tashkent, to 12 ½ years in jail on fabricated charges of extortion and forgery.
Following a tainted probe and trial, during which the prosecution witnesses
openly told the court they were being forced to testify against the journalist,
authorities convicted Sayid and sentenced him to jail without his lawyer,
family or the press present in the room. Nine months after his arrest, Sayid’s
wife and daughter died in a car accident while traveling to the prison to visit
him. His appeals were denied.
Press freedom groups including CPJ has – have repeatedly called on Karimov to
ease his regime’s grip on the media and to release all of the imprisoned
journalists. But the Uzbek government remains defiant.
Most recently authorities prosecuted independent journalists Viktor Krymzalov
and Elena Bondar on defamation charges. According to news reports, the
journalists were tried in connection to articles they neither contributed to
nor wrote. Despite the absurdity of the charges and a – and a lack of any
implicating evidence, state-controlled courts sided with the prosecution and
handed each reporter exorbitant fines. Krymzalov and Bondar were spared prison
terms, but their sentencing clarifies the unofficial message from the Uzbek
authorities: Journalism leads to jail.
Unlike its neighbor, Kyrgyzstan was not mentioned on CPJ’s prison census for
the decade that our organization has compiled prison lists. In 2010, however,
amid a violent ethnic conflict that deeply scarred southern Kyrgyzstan,
regional authorities handed a life term to one of their fiercest critic,
journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov.
Askarov’s case depicts official retaliation against an investigative reporter
who meticulously documented and exposed human rights abuses by law enforcement
agencies. Askarov had reported on the fabrication of criminal cases and the
rape, torture and murder of detainees by police in the southern Jalal-Abad
region. Interviewed by CPJ through his lawyer, the journalist said he had also
witnessed police officers shooting and killing unarmed civilians during the
2010 ethnic conflict. He said he had shared his findings with the regional and
international news outlets, including the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe and the Moscow-based group Memorial.
Askarov’s case was marked with numerous procedural violations. Although he was
arrested on June 15, 2010, police did not document his detention until the next
day and denied him access to lawyer for five days. They also beat the
journalist and his brother, who was also detained for two days, after Askarov
refused to hand over his reporting materials and help the authorities fabricate
criminal cases against local residents. Askarov told CPJ that the police had
also threatened to rape his wife and daughter, but that they two had escaped.
A U.S.-based physician who visited Askarov in jail last December said that
Askarov appeared, quote, “to have suffered severe and lasting physical injuries
as a result of his arrest and incarceration,” quote.
After Askarov refused to give police his reporting materials, which implicated
local officials in compliance with the conflict, authorities charged him with
incitement to ethnic hatred, calls to mass disorder, attempted kidnapping,
illegal possession of ammunition and complicity in a policeman’s murder. The
charges were based on accusations made by regional police, a local mayor and
two of the mayor’s employees – the officials who had long threatened to jail
Askarov in retaliation for his work.
Their statements were conflicting and lacked detail. And there was no physical
evidence, such as video footage or statements by impartial witnesses, presented
in court. The bullets, which investigators claimed to have found during a
search of Askarov’s house, were not stored as required for material evidence.
Authorities also refused to provide security to the defense witnesses, who
could not give their statements in court due to attacks and death threats from
the colleagues and relatives of the killed policeman.
Authorities also neglected a report by Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman, whose commission
investigated Askarov’s case and found him innocent on all charges. Appeals by
CPJ and other press freedom and human rights groups were also ignored. In
September 2010 a regional court convicted Askarov on all charges and imprisoned
him for life. All of his appeals were denied by national courts, including the
Askarov’s case is a vivid example of the post-conflict media climate in
Kyrgyzstan, where the once-vibrant ethnic Uzbek-language media has virtually
vanished after facing official intimidation, harassment and politicized
prosecutions, according to CPJ research. And CPJ is preparing an investigative
report that aims to shed light on Askarov’s retaliatory prosecution and
fabricated charges, as well as the torture he suffered during custody. And we
are more than happy to provide Helsinki Commission with report once it’s
Mr. Milosch, CPJ urges members of this commission to discuss these issues with
high-ranking officials in the Obama administration, who can in turn raise them
in meetings with Uzbek and Kyrgyz officials. We ask you to use the powers of
this commission to prevent any violations against press freedom in this
politically unstable region.
Silencing the media leaves the international community, at a minimum,
underinformed about threats to the region such as rampant government
corruption, human rights abuses, natural and manmade disasters, outbreaks of
chronic diseases and other issues that hamper socioeconomic and political
development on the – of the region. The global community’s strategic interest
in Central Asia must not overshadow the importance of free media in the fight
against these and other regional threats. We call on you to demand the release
of our imprisoned colleagues. Thank you.
MS. HELWIG: Thank you.
CATHY COSMAN: Thank you very much, and thank you for the opportunity to speak
today about the situation of religious prisoners in Central Asia. Publicly
highlighting their situation in Congress is important, for we should not lose
sight of the human tragedies behind the prisoner statistics. Most of these
people have been unjustly imprisoned and oftentimes abused if not tortured.
Shining a light on their situation will hopefully result in their release, and
if not, at least an improvement in their conditions.
As mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, in March 2012 the
commission recommended that Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan be
designated by the U.S. government as countries of particular concern, or CPCs,
due to their systematic abuse of international obligations to respect freedom
of religion or belief. The State Department has designated Uzbekistan a CPC
since 2006, while Turkmenistan and Tajikistan do not have that status. Today I
will focus on these three countries, but have also included written material on
the impact of repressive Kyrgyz and Kazakh religion laws and have submitted for
the record additional commission materials.
Uzbek religion law imposes major hurdles for the registration of religious
groups and criminalizes legitimate activities of unregistered groups. The law
also bans production and distribution of unofficial religious publications,
prohibits minors from participating in religious organizations and only allows
clerics to wear religious clothing in public.
Over the past decade at least 5,000 reportedly have been imprisoned in
Uzbekistan, sometimes in psychiatric hospitals, for up to 20-year-terms due to
their religious affiliations or beliefs. Many were imprisoned because they
reject state control over religion or because the Uzbek government claims they
are associated with groups it has banned.
Criminal convictions in Uzbekistan are almost entirely based on confessions,
frequently gained through torture. Once arrested, prisoners often are denied
access to a lawyer or are held incommunicado for weeks or months. In 2011 the
Ezgulik human rights group documented the alleged torture of female detainees.
Uzbek authorities also increasingly refuse to release religious prisoners at
the end of their terms.
Many of those imprisoned on religion-related charges are treated particularly
harshly. Torture remains endemic in prisons, pretrial facilities and local
police precincts and reportedly includes the threat or use of violence, rape
and gas masks to block victims’ air supply. Included for submission in the
record is the 2012 commission annual report list of 65 individuals jailed for
religious belief or activities in Uzbekistan in 2011.
The Uzbek government does not consider repression of extremism suspects to be
an issue of religious freedom, but rather prevention of armed resistance.
Uzbekistan does face security threats, including from groups which advocate or
commit violence in the name of religion. Terrorist bombings have occurred.
Nevertheless, the Uzbek government’s policies are highly problematic. Alleged
members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a grouped banned in Uzbekistan, are believed to
comprise most of the political prisoners, but often are imprisoned without
evidence of violence.
The Uzbekistan government has also prosecuted Akromiya, even though experts
view it as a nonviolent business group based on the writings of imprisoned
Uzbek mathematics teacher Akram Yuldashev. Charges against the 23 businessmen
on trial in Andijan in May 2005 included alleged membership in Akromiya.
Another group prohibited in Uzbekistan, Tabligh Jamaat, is an Islamic
missionary group which began in South Asia. In 2011, a group of 17 alleged
members were convicted in one trial.
The Uzbek government has imprisoned alleged members of the banned nonviolent
Nur group, whose offense is that they read the works of Said Nursi, a Turkish
mullah. In recent years, 141 Nur followers were sentenced to terms of up to 12
In December 2010, 18 Muslims were jailed for belonging to Shohidiya, a
religious movement that follows the Quran. Its leader, Nasibullo Karimov,
received a nine-year sentence.
The Uzbek authorities have repressed entire families for alleged religious
extremism, including the sons of human rights activist Akhmadjan Madmarov, whom
the commission met in 2004.
In April 2010 three women, including Mehriniso Hamdamova, were jailed for up to
seven years for threatening the constitutional order, public security and
public order. They had provided girls with private religious instruction.
The Uzbek government also has imprisoned Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses
for extremism and illegal religious activity. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses are
imprisoned as conscientious objectors.
Also troubling are attempts by suspected Uzbek agents to attack religious
leaders abroad. Obidkhon Qori Nazarov is known for his defense of religious
freedom. On February 22nd, 2012, Nazarov was shot in Sweden, and some of his
followers have been threatened.
In early 2010 a popular young Muslim journalist, Hairulla Khamidov, was
arrested in Tashkent and charged with extremism. A police search of his home
found recorded sermons by Imam Nazarov. In May 2010 Khamidov received a
six-year prison camp sentence.
It is very difficult to assess the full dimensions of human rights or most
other issues in Turkmenistan due to the official stranglehold on information
about the country.
After he became Turkmen president in early – in early 2007, Gurbanguly
Berdimuhamedov promised but has not undertaken reform of the country’s
oppressive laws. On the eve of the commission’s 2007 visit to Turkmenistan,
the president did order the release of Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, the imprisoned
former chief mufti on whose behalf the commission had worked for several years.
While the new president has limited the former President Niyazov’s personality
cult, he is now busy instituting his own cult as the cornerstone of state
Turkmen law sets intrusive registration rules and bans activity by unregistered
religious organizations. It forbids worship in private homes and the public
wearing of religious garb except by religious leaders and places severe
restrictions on religious education. Conscientious objection to military
service is not allowed. These laws result in the imprisonment of those who
wish to peacefully and freely practice their faith.
According to the International Crisis Group, Turkmenistan has one of the
world’s highest prisoner-to-population ratios. In June 2011 the U.N. Committee
Against Torture noted that reports of torture in Turkmenistan are, quote,
“numerous and consistent” and “there appears to be a climate of impunity,”
close quote. Last year three religious prisoners who were in the Seydi prison
camp, where most such prisoners are held, reported that solitary confinement
and severe beatings by guards were, quote, “routine,” close quote.
In recent years, Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as a Hare
Krishna adherent were imprisoned due to their religious convictions. In
October 2010 Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev of the unregistered Peace to the World
Protestant church in the city of Mary was sentenced to a four-year term for
alleged swindling. He was released in February of this year with about 230
other prisoners but still must report to the police. Pastor Nurliev also
expressed concern about several Muslim prisoners in Seydi prison camp who may
have been jailed for peaceful religious activity, including a young Muslim who
reportedly received a four-year sentence for teaching the Quran to children,
and a former chief imam of Mary region, Muhammed-Rahim Muhammedov.
Turkmenistan has also been implicated in attempts to silence dissent among
émigrés and activists whom the commission has met. In October 2010, Farid
Tuhbatullin, exiled head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, said that
he had learned that the Turkmen Ministry of Security planned to, quote,
“accidentally,” close quote, attack him in Vienna. Inside Turkmenistan, civil
society activist Natalya Shabunts found a bloody sheep’s head outside her
Ashkhabad home early this year.
Current Turkmen law has no civilian alternative to military service as it did
until 1995. There are five known Turkmen Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned as
conscientious objectors. All are in the Seydi labor camp where some prisoners
have been subjected to psychiatric abuse.
The commission recommended for the first time this year that Tajikistan be
designated a counter of particular concern, due in part to the passage of
repressive new laws. In fact, these laws may have created Central Asia’s worst
legal climate for freedom of religion or belief. Tajik law places major
administrative hurdles on all religious groups and deems illegal all nonviolent
unregistered religious groups. A 2011 law bans almost all participation by
children in religious activities.
The 2009 religion law prohibits private religious education and requires state
permission for organized religious instruction. It bans proselytism and
requires government approval for religious organizations to invite foreigners.
It requires that officials approve the content and, quote, “appropriate
quantities,” close quote, of all published or imported religious literature.
Religious groups must pay for this, quote, “service,” close quote. The law
singles out mosques for strict regulation. Muslim worship is limited to
mosques, homes and cemeteries and is not allowed in places of work or on
streets around mosques.
The Tajik criminal code penalizes extremists, terrorists or revolutionary
activities without the criterion of violence or incitement to imminent
violence. Also, the law does not define extremists’ religious study or
teaching, freeing Tajik authorities to act against peaceful religious activity
or to penalize other banned nonviolent activities.
Tajikistan has banned Hizb ut-Tahrir and 12 other organizations, and in the
past decade reportedly has imprisoned over 500 people for alleged Hizb
ut-Tahrir membership. A court in the Sughd province sentenced seven people in
February of this year to up to five-year terms for alleged membership in
Tabligh Jamaat. In 2010 at least 59 were sentenced to terms of up to eight
years, including the brothers Igbolsho, Amirali and Murodali Davlatov. The
Tajik Supreme Court banned the Salafi school of Islam in February 2009,
although no crimes have been linked to Salafists in Tajikistan. In January
2010 seven were sentenced to prison terms from five to seven years.
In conclusion, Central Asia faces real security concerns due to serious threats
from groups which advocate or perpetrate violence in the name of religion and
from terrorists groups based in Afghanistan. The misguided security policies
of Central Asian governments, however, run the risk of creating the very
security problems they are supposed to solve.
These harsh laws and penalties and policies also reflect the Soviet
anti-religious bias of Central Asian officials as they try to come to grips
with societies increasingly drawn to religion. The impact of these
anti-religious laws and policies is amplified by corrupt and inept court
systems and a dearth of due process guarantees. Thousands of inmates are
enmeshed in corrupt and inept Soviet-style prisons where torture can be used to
gain confessions needed for convictions as well as for maintaining prison
I would like to cite some conclusions for a December 2009 International Crisis
Group briefing called “Central Asia: Islamists in Prison.” Quote, “The growing
number of Islamists in prison means that more inmates, often with a record of
violence, are drawn into the Islamist ideological orbit. In the future they
may apply these skills, either in prison or outside, to promotion of their new
faith. Prisons need funding, advice, assistance and close attention from
foreign governments, concerned NGOs and international organizations.
The Central Asian crackdown on political Islam is likely, in fact, to create
more recruits for its combat teams. Ever longer sentences handed down to
Islamic activists for relatively minor actions like political demonstrations
risks further in polarizing the Muslim community. It is not difficult to
imagine young unemployed males opting to join a revived terrorist Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan rather than the Hizb ut-Tahrir as the sentence for
participation in either movement are now roughly the same.
An energetic and tangible effort is urgently need to improve living conditions,
crack down on corruption and abuse of office and launch a real dialogue with
observant Muslims. At the moment the region’s leaders are only talking about
the first two options and rejecting the third. In so doing, they are
undermining their own position and their countries’ futures,” close quote.
In closing, the commission welcomes the Helsinki Commission’s attention to the
human rights and humanitarian issue of political and religious prisoners. Mass
violations of freedom of religion or belief also have a security dimension
since they are often explicit or implicit factors in civil strife and violent
extremism. The deteriorating Central Asian religious freedom record, including
the wide use of extremism laws against religious individuals and groups without
proven links to violent acts, gives rise to serious concern about future
Thank you very much.
REPRESENTATIVE PHIL GINGREY (R-GA): Ms. Cosman, thank you very much for your
presentation. Before our final panelist speaks, that being Dr. Sanjar Umarov,
chairman of the Sunshine Coalition, I want to introduce for his remarks my
colleague on the commission from the United States House of Representatives,
Representative Steve Cohen from Memphis, Tennessee. Representative Cohen is in
his, I believe, it’s fourth term and certainly is a strong, strong advocate for
human rights. And I want to yield to my colleague Mr. Cohen at this time.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Thank you. I appreciate the fourth term.
I hope that’s a prescient statement – predictive, yes. (Laughter.)
REP. COHEN: Thank you. In several former Soviet states, despite the fact that
all have accepted their commitments to the OSCE, political prisoners remain a
problem, as we’ve heard. The State Department’s annual human rights reports
and those of many human rights organizations continue to document arrests of
individuals for either political or religious belief. It’s really shocking to
hear what we’ve heard, and it’s important that this be told to the – to the
members of this commission and to the American people.
In this statement, I would like to focus particularly on Uzbekistan because
I’ve had the honor of working with the Umarov family. And Dr. Umarov and his
family, who live in Memphis – well, really, I guess Germantown, but it’s
Memphis, Tennessee. Everybody near Memphis claims they’re in Memphis except
when it’s time to pay taxes. And we’ve helped in bringing Dr. Umarov back to
the United States. He was, of course, the head of the Sunshine opposition
And he was sentenced in a politically motivated trial to 14 years – 14 and half
years, I guess, was in prison, where he was reportedly tortured repeatedly.
And I would like to hear about that and the conditions of – (inaudible) –
imprisonment. Following significant pressure from the United States and
others, he was finally amnestied in 2009, but not after he had served quite a
Dr. Umarov’s case is not unique to Uzbekistan. Human rights activists,
journalists, members of certain religious groups continue to fall victim to the
president’s restrictive laws and policies. NGOs estimate between 10 and 30
people are imprisoned for their human rights or political activism while
hundreds or even thousands are imprisoned for alleged memberships in certain
Strict laws against religious extremism are applied broadly, particularly
against those suspected of Islamic extremism. Political prisoners, prisoners
of conscience and suspected extremists are allegedly treated worse than
ordinary prisoners. In 2003 the United Nations Special Committee on Torture
visited Uzbekistan and concluded that torture in the judicial and penitentiary
system was systemic, systematic and widespread.
Nearly a decade later, this situation has not seemed to have improved. Human
Rights Watch recently issued a report, “No One Left to Witness,” which details
recent cases of torture and mistreatment in custody and continuing problems
with the judicial process. Citing U.S. national security interests, Secretary
Clinton in January signed a temporary waiver on military assistance to
Uzbekistan, which Congress had put in place because of its consistently poor
record on human rights.
Uzbekistan is certainly playing a strategic role in providing an overland
supply route in and out of Afghanistan, but the U.S. must continue to raise
difficult human rights issues at the same time as it develops its military
cooperation with Uzbekistan – I guess just another byproduct of war.
And Uzbekistan is not the only Central Asian country of concern. In
Turkmenistan no political opposition or independent media is tolerated. In all
the “stans” there are problems – unfair trials, prosecutions for political and
religious reasons, conditions and situations that we don’t hear of in the
United States in these countries or certainly in our nation, but they do exist
in the world and it’s important that they be talked about here on this
committee and actions be taken that make the United States a partner with other
nations to try to end these human rights violations.
No one should be imprisoned for political views or religious views. That’s an
American concept and we hope that it becomes more of a national concept – or
international concept. I really look forward to hearing from Dr. Umarov and I
look forward to hearing from the other – or the other panelists as well. Thank
REP. GINGREY: Representative Cohen, thank you very much. And now it is my
pleasure to introduce to you for his remarks Dr. Sanjar Umarov. He is
chairman, as I mentioned earlier, of the Sunshine Coalition and, as Steve said,
a former political prisoner in Uzbekistan. Shortly after Dr. Umarov became
chairman of the Sunshine Coalition in 2005, as was pointed out, he was arrested
and sentenced to 14.5 years. He has been recognized as prisoner of conscience.
And he was amnestied finally on humanitarian grounds in November of 2009.
Dr. Umarov, it’s a pleasure to have you on the – on the panel.
SANJAY UMAROV: Thank you. First of all, I would – I’d like to say thanks –
big thanks for Helsinki Commission for the Tennessee member in Congress and to
whole congressmen – all congressmen and senators for help to my release, and
specially and also for a resolution which was taken in 2005 on my behalf – two
resolutions, Senate and House resolutions, which saved my life. Thank you very
Thank you for opportunity to make a statement to this committee regarding
political prisoners in Central Asia. Since independence in 1991, the
government of Uzbekistan has consistently repressed all opposition – all
opposition – including commercial, political and religious groups – using the
criminal courts and security services to persecute person perceived as
potential threats. An alarming trend is the increasing number of people sent
to prison under special, arbitrary national security laws. These laws are
especially pernicious because they can be used to convict anyone of anything.
So in practice they are most often used for political purpose.
In the past, in ’90s, they were used to repress a relatively small number of
members of political, religious and economic elite. Now we are witnessing
vastly increasing numbers of prosecutions under these and similar statutes,
resulting in a dramatic rise of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience
in Uzbekistan. In March, 2006, after my appeal, I was sentenced to prison for
– after appeal it was 10 and a half years under these laws.
This conviction was entirely due to my participation and leadership in the
Sunshine Coalition, an alliance of the secular groups and individuals
supporting peaceful dialog on political and economic reforms in Uzbekistan.
Due to the political nature of the charges against me, from the early minutes
of my arrest on October 22, I was drugged and tortured routinely. At first, my
interrogators tortured me hoping for confessions. However, prison
administrators and guards continued to torture me even after my sentencing.
Those who carry the label of a political prisoner while in custody in
Uzbekistan are tortured more severely and more frequently than the general
population. As one example of many, in the brutally cold winter of 2008, I was
held at Penal Colony 47, Kyzyl-Tepa, Bukhara. Three other prisoners and I
spent five freezing days in January in the monkey cage – unheated, open-air
punishment cell – with nothing to wear other than t-shirts. And outside
temperate was minus – about minus-10 degrees Celsius, which is about 10 degrees
We survived by lying back-to-back and moving continuously. If we would have
slept or stopped moving, we would have frozen to death.
After this experience my health seriously deteriorated, and I spent several
months in the near-death health condition. In my case, public concern over my
health made the prison administrations, as well as the governing regime, fear
my death at their hands. And I was eventually spared and set three – free.
Yet for every case like mine, there is thousands of other prisoners who die as
a direct result of abuse and torture by investigators, prison guards and
The United Sates and the world community must defend the thousands of prisoner
of Uzbekistan that are – that are being tortured as we speak. The U.S. and the
world community must demand that the government of Uzbekistan take specific and
verifiable actions to address political persecutions and the torture of
prisoners. The lifting in January of the prohibition on the sale of military
goods to the government of Uzbekistan provides the U.S. with an opportunity to
show the government of Uzbekistan that systematic, institutionalized violence
must stop. Any deepening of U.S. military tie to Uzbekistan must be explicitly
conditioned upon real and verifiable concessions on human rights.
As we, the people who are trying to bring Uzbekistan closer to world civilized
standards, reconfirm our belief in our ultimate goals of freedom of all
political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, the free return of those in
exile, and independent political representation in Oliy Majlis parliament, we
must also set the agenda for realistic progress on human rights and torture.
For the record, I would like to mention that a broader list of prisoner of
conscience will be provided. The minimum condition in this agenda could
include release of the prisoners of conscience, such as Rustam Usmanov,
Khayrullo Khamidov, Salijon Abdurakhmanov, Dilmurod Sayid, and the students of
the legally registered Turkish lyceum arrested since 2008. It’s – 2007. It’s
about 200 students of Turkish lyceum was arrested from 2007, just because they
studied in Turkish lyceum and – which was considered religious. But this is –
this lyceum was officially registered in Uzbekistan, which is interesting.
Other agenda items can include supporting meaningful dialogue between key
members of local independent groups promoting human rights on one end and
Ministry of Internal Affairs on the other. Such dialogue can be meaningful if
internationally respected human right organizations will be allowed to monitor
Unfortunately the issue of prisoners of conscience is not unique to Uzbekistan,
as there are prisoners of conscience in all of the states of the former Soviet
Union. In particular, the ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan continue to
be aggravated by the imprisonment of Azimjon Askarov and his group. This
should be viewed not just in the interest of interethnic relation of these
individuals, but also as – but as a case for justice, as they were not given
fair opportunity to defend themselves. An expedited release of these
above-mentioned people – there is a list of eight people – would be a good sign
toward improvement of human rights situation in south Kyrgyzstan.
Over the years, the Helsinki committee has held many hearings about the
worrying trends for human rights in Central Asia. Unfortunately the
commission’s record of testimony demonstrates that year after year the trend of
political repression is aggravating and escalating. A dramatic example of this
is the continued widespread use of torture in Uzbekistan’s jail and prisons.
The U.S. and the world community have a responsibility to support human rights
in Uzbekistan by conditioning deeper economic and military tie to practical and
verifiable steps from the government of Uzbekistan for real reforms. Such a
start can be achieved via interparliamentary cooperation on developing
overhauled legislation aiming at the streaming – streamlining the role and
function of the law enforcement institution, such as the Office of Attorney
General, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, courts and
penitentiary system in matter of protecting the human rights and the supremacy
of the rule of law. Thank you.
REP. GINGREY: Dr. Umarov, thank you very much. And I want to thank all of our
panelists who are participating in this presentation. Want to go ahead and get
right into a series of questions. And obviously we welcome questions from
those of you in the audience as well. But we’ll start on the panel with me as
And I want to ask the first question. And any one of our three presenters can
respond to this, starting to my extreme left. And this is a rather generic
question: Do you think that raising these individual cases, either publicly or
directly with the governments concerned, helps the individual named? Or
fearfully, could it endanger them or their families by so-called bringing their
cases out into the public light?
Let’s start with Mr. Suleymanov.
MR. SULEYMANOV: Thank you for the question. I personally and we at CPJ
believe that we should name each case we are talking about – in our case, names
of the journalists imprisoned or threatened in retaliation for their work with
prison in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – simply because the authorities should
know that the entire world is watching them, that they are not going to get
away with imprisoning somebody and with threatening them and their families.
We have to name each case. And it shouldn’t be just numbers presented to the
government, that you have five journalists in jail. We should name every one.
REP. GINGREY: Ms. Cosman.
MS. COSMAN: I agree that publicity is a lifeline for most individuals who are
imprisoned – and not just imprisoned. I mean, if actions are beginning to
mount up against an individual or group while they’re, you know, threatened –
who are being threatened with imprisonment, that’s also important to call
attention to. I think very often the Uzbek and other governments in Central
Asia pretend not to care about international opinion, but I think if one looks
more closely they definitely do.
REP. GINGREY: Dr. Umarov.
MR. UMAROV: Yes, this is good to name the people because this named by the
Helsinki Commission under the roof of U.S. Congress. So they will listen this,
because they want to establish also now relations with U.S. Congress. As you
know, delegations are coming frequently from Uzbekistan especially. So it’s
good to name – (inaudible).
MR. GINGREY: Well, thank you. And it sounds like that is a unanimous yes,
it’s good to name. And I – well, I have to admit, in asking the question I had
a pre-formed opinion on the answer. And my answer would also be yes. And I
thank all three of you for that direct response.
At this point I will turn to my fellow member of CSCE, Representative Steve
Cohen, for the next round of questions. And I will have to excuse myself at
this point. I apologize for that.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Dr. Umarov, let me ask you – you mentioned this monkey cage. And it – and I’ve
– we have kind of a monkey cage like that at the Memphis Zoo. Never thought
about humans. That’s – have – do you – where are the – have people died in
those monkey cages? They – do they put people in there in solitary, or are
they always have others with them?
MR. UMAROV: Yeah, thank you for question. Monkey cage is unofficial name.
REP. COHEN: Right, I’m sure.
MR. UMAROV: Yeah, this is – between the arrestee, between the inmates, we name
it this monkey cage because it’s similar to the cage what you had – you may see
in pet zoo, you know; because there is no heating, no – it’s about three meters
– in – for example, in Kyzyl-Tepa prison colony near Bukhara the monkey cage –
this designed for the people who should be placed to solitary, to isolation.
But before they giving the sentenced, because it – chief of the prison should
say, for example, 10 days in isolation, 15 days of isolation – this chief of
the prison – (inaudible) – makes a sentence. But before, for – under law, it’s
72 hours they putting to the monkey cage. And this is by the law 72 hours.
But in reality it’s up to two weeks. They may be two weeks –
REP. COHEN: So the law restricts it to up to 72 hours, but they don’t abide by
MR. UMAROV: Well, 72 hours by the law. During this period, it’s like for –
just to have many, many prisoners to go to the small court, yeah? It’s some
kind of small court. And the chief of the court is a prison head, head of the
prison. So for 72 hours by the law, they’re living in, for example, three
meters by one-and-a-half meters – bar, no heating and even no (shoes ?), even
no socks when they putting inside the cage. No socks, no food, no hat, no warm
clothes – only some kind of a T-shirt. And no toilet inside, no bed.
And you waiting – I mean, the inmate waiting the decision of the chief of the
prison. And then he decide, for example, to sentence for 15 days of solitary;
then they put to the cell after this. In cell, at least it’s – there is a bed,
OK, no great, but there is a bed at least in the cell. But in the monkey cage,
nothing, nothing. And it’s close to the outside door. For example, in the
winter, then they put us to the monkey cage. They – not open; they eliminate
the door. They just – they – (in foreign language) –
MS. COSMAN: Remove.
MR. UMAROV: – removed the – removed the door completely. And so outside
temperature was, as I said, about minus-10 degrees Celsius, so – and the same
temperature was inside.
REP. COHEN: What – and what did you allegedly do to merit such conditions?
MR. UMAROV: What the – this was after presidential election – last
presidential election, which was in December 23 of 2007. And before
presidential election, it was some kind of political meeting – official
political meeting. And I speak what – this term – it’s not good to Karimov to
go to the next presidential election, because it’s broke of the constitution.
He broken the constitution going to the election third time. This was –
because under constitution all he can be elected only two times – the
president, I mean, of Uzbekistan. And in December 23, 2007, he go to his third
time – third term, so he broke the constitution. And I told this openly and
after the – but after election they put me in the monkey cage, and maybe this
was punishment for my expression.
REP. COHEN: So as you were – maybe misunderstand, but was your expression
while you were in prison?
MR. UMAROV: Yeah.
REP. COHEN: Oh, I see. So you – and when you expressed this to, what, to
MR. UMAROV: Yeah. I express this in the meeting. We had the meeting in the –
in the prison. It’s an official meeting, not unofficial; it’s – it was
official meeting once per week. There is some kind of the political workshop
when someone coming from the – (inaudible) –
REP. COHEN: When you’re in that – in that condition, what kind of – do they –
they feed you – or didn’t give you water, but how do – what do they give you?
MR. UMAROV: Sorry?
REP. COHEN: What kind of food and water –
MR. UMAROV: In monkey cage, they giving – the food is – you know, the problem
in the prison with the food is big problem. For example, meat – almost no
meat, and they making some kind of the – a soup with bad potato and some maybe
– (in foreign language) – garbage.
REP. COHEN: So they had soup and they had utensils to eat it with. So you did
have that. What other forms of torture were you subjected to while you were in
MR. UMAROV: Torture – it was different type. For example, this – as I said,
this one – an hour before my appeal court, they put – I was in the basement in
Tashkent central prison, in the basement. And they put – just one day before
the appeal court, they put the car just near the window of our cell. It
started to work. It’s worked for half of the day and gases go to the – to the
cell through window. That was because it’s a basement, the gas going
downstairs. So half of the day the car ran, and I was – you know, after next
day when I came to the court, I was just not – I cannot understand what
happening, you know. I was overcome by the fumes at that time. I cannot even
answer to the questions, to the – during the appeal court, I mean, because of –
REP. COHEN: While you were in prison, did you know of people who died in
prison from other than natural causes?
MR. UMAROV: Yes. Yes. The – I think what – for example, many people dying in
central prison hospital, which is in Tashkent. There is a central prison
hospital. The people dying at that place dying, you know, about – there is
some days up to five people dying at Tashkent central prison hospital. How do
I know? For example, I was put in psychiatric department. And this is a very
bad department. They using this department some for punish also, as some kind
of punishment, because all the day you stay in – people stay in the – in the
cell. They cannot go outside in the psychiatric department.
And near our psychiatric department was a morgue. And if someone die, the
guard announce by speakers – they announce the supervisor of morgue please come
or should come to the department five, for example, or department seven. It’s
because that someone died. So after 20 minutes, 15 minutes, we may hear the
noise of small car. It’s mean what the supervisor of the morgue going to this
department with car – small car to bring the body. And after half an hour
after that, after 40 minutes maybe, they come back. And also you may hear the
noise, because it’s an old car and you may hear the noise. Oh, you know it –
OK, here it turn with the body, it means – (inaudible). And in some days, we
may hear about up to five announcements per day – five die –
REP. COHEN: Do you have any reason to believe that these deaths were caused by
– intentionally inflicted, as distinguished from just natural causes or, you
know, health problems?
MR. UMAROV: These – in a – in the hospital mainly dying from tuberculosis and
HIV – the mainly. And in the prison itself, they are dying by suicide – many
suicides in the prisons. And inside the solitary confinement also people
dying, but they telling what – it – he was suicide. How – who may check this?
REP. COHEN: Yeah, witnesses are few.
MR. UMAROV: Yeah. And – but regularly, the people dying in the prisons
REP. COHEN: Do you have family right now in Uzbekistan?
MR. UMAROV: Yes, but my all family here. I have relatives. Yeah.
REP. COHEN: Do you have any concern for their safety and –
MR. UMAROV: I – in one hand, you know, we – they should understand what – I
don’t think what they will act actively against me or against my relatives
because they know I’m maybe too much expose it. And they do not like the
people who can have the possibility, for example, to react or to bring
attention – international attention. So they choosing more people who –
REP. COHEN: Low-key, right? Yeah.
MR. UMAROV: Yeah. Yeah.
REP. COHEN: What’s the status of your political party now?
MR. UMAROV: Our organization was not allowed at that time to register. We
applied for registering locally. And then after when I was in the prison –
also my supporters help – also in some kind I received the help, which why I
was not killed, I mean, in the prisons. They – I believe also for this,
because they have support in some kind just to eliminate killing, you know;
because at the beginning I may tell you, for example, after two or three days –
after two days, I think, after my arrest, police guard enter to the cell with
two plastic bag and the knife to the cell. And he left these two bags and
knife and he exit. And it was three criminals also in the cell with me. And
it – I don’t know, they was just fear me, or maybe my supporters helped and
protect me, but I was not killed.
REP. COHEN: Let me ask this of the whole panel. In some of the details that
are in our briefings about religious persecution, it’s mostly Muslims, Islam,
some Seventh-day Adventists I noticed, and maybe some other Baha’i faiths if I
remember correctly. I didn’t notice any persecution against people that are
Jewish. Are there not any Jews to persecute? And why would they not take
advantage of that opportunity?
MR. UMAROV: In Uzbekistan, you mean?
REP. COHEN: Well, everywhere – whoever’s got knowledge in the area, because
there’s nothing in our briefings about persecutions against Jews, and usually,
you know, you round up the usual suspects. They’re right there.
MS. COSMAN: Many – or I would say the overwhelming majority of Jews in Central
Asia have left, gone mostly to Israel. There are still some small, very
ancient Jewish communities, particularly in Uzbekistan, actually connected to –
well, Iran and – anyway, it’s a complicated history. But they, for the most
part, are very well integrated into Uzbek society, and there’s really – is not
very much tradition of – thankfully, not much tradition of anti-Jewish
persecution in Uzbekistan and Central Asia in general. I think the reason they
mainly go after Muslims is because Muslims, from a political point of view,
they’re the majority religion, and so they’re the biggest political – potential
political threat from the point of view of the government. And that’s what the
government – you know, the government just cares about lessening any potential
threat to its power.
REP. COHEN: Does anyone else want to – have anything to offer? No?
MR. SULEYMANOV: No, we at CPJ only focus on imprisonment of journalists. And
as far as I know, all of those who are currently being held in Uzbek and Kyrgyz
prisons are ethnic Uzbeks.
REP. COHEN: Thank you.
Are there questions from members of the audience? There’s – where’s the
microphone – over here?
MR. MILOSCH: Here are the microphones on the side.
REP. COHEN: Can you come over here to this microphone and identify yourself?
Q: Hello, I’m Katherine Fitzpatrick. Thank you for convening this briefing.
Next week there’s going to be the NATO summit in Chicago. And with all the
problems we’ve had with Pakistan, we don’t have the route going through
Pakistan anymore, and we’ve become more reliant on Central Asian regimes for
that route. So my question to the panelists is, how has that further reliance
and that further relationship impacted the human rights situation, if at all?
And more to the point, how has it impacted the ability of the U.S. government
to raise these kinds of cases effectively? Will there be any effort when these
delegations come next week to specifically raise these cases by name and see if
any action could be obtained on them? Thank you.
REP. COHEN: Thank you, Miss Fitzpatrick.
Who would like to respond?
MS. COSMAN: I believe you’re – Katherine, you’re referring to the Northern
Distribution Network, which is supply of –
MS. COSMAN: – military – nonlethal military supply is the official
description. It includes all the countries of Central Asia except
Turkmenistan, due to Turkmenistan’s stated policy of neutrality, although it
does have – Turkmenistan does have a gas-and-go operation for U.S. flights to
The Defense Department says that it is well aware of the “country of particular
concern” designation of Uzbekistan, and that it does raise the issue of freedom
of religion or belief regularly in its meetings with Uzbek officials. Of
course, there are no – you know, there are no public records of these meetings.
So I take DOD at its word. As far as individual cases are concerned, I do
know that the State Department does continue to raise individual cases and
there are occasional releases as we have witnessed here. But – and there
continue to be such releases even now. Of course one wishes more were done.
And there are some of us who believe that many – well, DOD and many believe
that, because of the NDN, we – politically speaking, we’re in a weaker position
to raise human rights concerns with these governments. Personally I believe
that, in fact, it’s the opposite because these governments are extremely
corrupt, and we – the U.S. government pays a lot for these transit routes. And
so the officials in these governments stand to gain personally from these
transit payments. So I would say that, in fact, that would lend credence to
the fact that, yes, if we raise human rights cases and make use of the NDN
connection in that way, we could see human rights gains.
MR. UMAROV: And if I may add also I know a little bit about logistics, as a
person in that region and – because I worked also – my company’s – (inaudible).
And the problem of logistics through – (inaudible) – to Afghanistan, I mean –
this is – everybody thinks that this is political problem or sometimes there is
difficulty to transit goods to Afghanistan. But this is more technical limits
because, for example, before it was two trains per day. This is technical
condition – technical capacity – two trains per day may enter to – (inaudible).
So one train is 60 wagons; two trains is 120 wagons; 60 tons per wagons. This
is all – this is limit, and maybe now with the new route to Mazar-e Sharif –
OK, maybe not two, maybe four trains per days. And so this is limit –
technical limit. But there is also – goods to Afghanistan which is going, for
example, like, not only for military; I mean, there is many goods to –
commercial goods also. So – and the route is only one. So this – I do not
think what Uzbek will close the route; they cannot close the route, you know?
If they close the route, this is – there are fines. So it’s a – it’s not real
what Uzbek government may close the route – no.
MR. SULEYMANOV: Well, also – I also want to add something from CPJ’s point of
view. As I said in the concluding remarks of my statement, no strategic
interest in Central Asia should be coming at the expense of human rights – at
the cost of human rights abuse in the region, no matter what country you’re
going to take, whether it’s Turkmenistan, which is not a part of the network or
Uzbekistan through which the network – through which goods are being delivered
to Afghanistan. We believe that officials of – and global leaders should
address and speak about all the concerns and speak about human rights abuse in
those countries at every possibility during any meeting that they have with the
leaders of those countries.
REP. COHEN: Thank you.
I agree with what you say, but it’s difficult. You know, foreign policy is
based on interest and – as well as values, and I think it’s a by-product of war
that’s kind of off the books. The cost is off the books. There’s a moral
cost, and then there’s a dollar cost. And Uzbekistan, just as in Afghanistan
directly, much of what we spend goes into the hands of people that we would
never abide by in this nation. But since they’re far away, we either accept or
ignorantly adjust –
MR. SULEYMANOV: I understand it’s geopolitics, Mr. Cohen. But the problem is
you might – by continuing to ignore human rights abuse in those countries, you
will spread the war from Afghanistan to include the region, which, sooner or
later, will blow up.
REP. COHEN: I don’t disagree.
Are there further questions from the members of the audience?
Q: This is Richard Solash from Radio Free Europe. I just wanted to know,
Representative Cohen, if you might follow up on Miss Cosman’s point that
perhaps this increased involvement with the countries of Central Asia, because
of the NDN, could actually provide a window to making improvements on some of
these fronts as opposed to just something that, unfortunately, has to be done;
that is, having increased dealings with these governments.
REP. COHEN: Well, I think that’s probably something Secretary Clinton will
have to decide, and certainly we can make, you know, inquiries. But –
Q: Do you see it as possible?
REP. COHEN: I guess anything is possible. I can’t really, you know, put
myself into Secretary Clinton’s mind.
MR. UMAROV: And I think now, for example, our proposition is very reasonable.
We do not asking something – not release – we’re asking in our proposition for
Uzbek – from Uzbek government as a very real steps here. And this is for their
interests, I mean, for Uzbek government also to do these steps if they want to
have reforms, as they said, if they want to start the reforms. This now is
good chance for Uzbek government to do this. And we will see if they will do
this. We will see during one or two weeks. Now is good time because of the
summit in Chicago, NATO summit, so to have good –
REP. COHEN: Doctor, let me ask you this – and you made some suggestions in
your – in your statement – what would be the best thing the United States
government could do to relieve conditions of persecution of political and
religious prisoners in Uzbekistan?
MR. UMAROV: As I said, in January prohibition of military cooperation was
lifted, and now U.S. government should make this – should ask government of
Uzbekistan to make the steps, for example, released, for example, now, before
summit, maybe, yeah, before summit in the NATO, release a few number of the
prisoners, political prisoners, and the students of Turkish lyceum, about 20 –
200 students of Turkish lyceum. And will – this will be good start for summit,
for example. This will be good start.
And then we have – what we are asking? We are asking surely to release our
prisoners, political prisoners. We’re asking the return of the people who in
exile, return to the countries. I mean, and we’re asking the permission to
independent representation of political – independent political parties in Oliy
Majlis, in parliament. This – it’s – because it’s all what we are asking was
announced by Uzbek government, head of the states about two years ago when the
– was announced for democracy reforms. We do not asking something
sophisticated. We are asking real things.
MR. COHEN: Ms. Cosman, yes.
MS. COSMAN: Yeah, I just wanted to also mention that in the longer run, I
think in addition to release of prisoners, which of course is very important,
that the laws need to be reformed, not just the religion laws, but also the
extremism laws. In particular, there has to be a criterion of advocacy of
violence or use of violence, which currently is missing from the laws, so as
the International Crisis Group points out, the legal sanctions against
conducting a peaceful demonstration, which the government doesn’t like, are
practically the same as taking part in a – in an overtly violent group. So
obviously, from the point of view of legal sanctions, it’s an insane policy.
And here I would say that all the governments in that region are at fault.
So I think it might be also interesting, in addition to the reform from a – of
laws from a secular point of view would be perhaps to bring in some
internationally respected members of the Muslim community to talk to these
governments who have very little experience with Islam, you know, coming from a
Soviet background, and to talk to them about different ways in which Islam can
be respected as a – as a world religion. And as long as people practice their
religion peacefully, a lot of these legal restrictions need to be removed so
that that would aid stability over the long term.
REP. COHEN: Let me ask you this – and you can just kind of help me reflect on
my – collect my recollections. As I recall – and maybe I – maybe there’s a
country in this region that’s different, but all these countries which spun off
from the Soviet Union have leaders who are, as I recall, immensely wealthy.
Would that be a conservative statement, accurate statement?
MS. COSMAN: To be brief, now they are.
REP. COHEN: And how did they get their immense wealth? Did they buy Google at
a good price or get IPOs – (laughter) – or what did – what did they do?
MS. COSMAN: Well, I would say that in the early days, they got insider deals.
And that includes all – you know, that includes Russia and Ukraine and all of
these countries too, and not just Central Asia. And now of course they’re just
– now that they’re – can cut insider deals, they do, with almost boring
REP. COHEN: You know, it shocked me, some of the wealth, as I recall in these
– I forget – one of them had the two daughters, one in Switzerland and one in
Paris. And that – is that Uzbekistan?
REP. COHEN: Yeah, I mean, it just – unbelievable, the wealth.
MR. SALEYMANOV: Yeah, Mr. Cohen, the problem is that in the absence of
independent press who can investigate the source of wealth, we cannot truly say
how much each president has or in what businesses their families are, like in
what business they are involved and from what they’re profiting, because all
these journalists who report on such cases – (inaudible) – if we say
Uzbekistan, many are in jail. And because of that, government corruption is
not being investigated.
REP. COHEN: Yes, ma’am.
MS. COSMAN: Once again, to go a little further afield, Luke Harding of The
Guardian investigated Putin’s personal wealth, and I think there’s some reason
to think that Putin may in fact be the richest man in the world. But Luke
didn’t get to finish his investigation because he was of course not allowed to
enter – re-enter Russia beyond –
REP. COHEN: And is he trying to buy a basketball team? (Laughter.)
MS. COSMAN: He’s interested in other sports.
REP. COHEN: Other sports – yeah, really.
I want to thank – is there – no further questions from – Ms. Fitzpatrick? Yes,
ma’am. You want to come to the microphone?
Q: Yes, I wanted to ask Dr. Umarov about the – your thoughts on the succession
after Karimov will inevitable pass the stage, and what are the prospects for
change in Uzbekistan? What would be the factors that would bring about change?
Would it be movements in the population, or would it be the actions of Russia
or China or the spillover of the Taliban? Or what would be the factors that
would bring about change for the better or worse in Uzbekistan?
MR. UMAROV: Yeah, thank you for this question. It’s very complex question.
When – I remember in 2005 when we started our activity, everybody thought what
I am successor of Karimov. (Laughs.) I said, no, I am not successor. And
after a few time, I was jailed. (Laughs.) Maybe this time I will say, OK, I
am successor. (Laughs.) Well, this is joke.
And there – we’ll see what – for example, what we asking in our statement is
very real and very good chance to start make the peaceful change in Uzbekistan.
And if this will be from Uzbek side – I mean, from government of Uzbekistan,
will be – these change will be started so we may go ahead and – by all the
exile that – politician who are in exile, if they’ll be allowed to return to
Uzbekistan to register the parties, to enter to the parliament as independent.
So there is a good way to go peaceful – for the peaceful changes, a good
chance, I mean.
If this will not be accepted by Uzbek government – of authority of Uzbekistan,
which we will see one or two weeks from now, we will see the result, yes or not
– if not, my – think what – because Uzbek, yes, this very tolerant people,
Uzbekistani – I mean citizen of Uzbekistan – well, very tolerant, and they may
wait a long – they want to live under a rule, yeah, you know?
But also there are limits. There are limits for Uzbekistan, whose people of
Uzbekistan – I mean citizen of Uzbekistan. And this limits is now at the –
it’s almost at the end.
And then I think maybe just social riots. This is what we can expect in the
future, because the people, OK, they’re waiting, waiting. They have some hope.
But if there is no hope for change, so the people will start and – I mean,
will be riots, social riots.
And for religions, no Talibans - it’s too long, this – and the religious group
– this religious group, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, they also in – but what
can they do? OK, maybe they make – can make some terrorist attack.
But the main problem now is the social riots, discontent of the people,
MR. COHEN: Ms. Cosman.
MS. COSMAN: I got far afield with questions about the wealth of Putin, but
really I should have mentioned both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan being – you
know, having a lot of gas and oil. So there are many allegations about, you
know, all kinds of private accounts. I mean, all of – as these presidents have
this tendency to secret away vast amounts, but Niyazov apparently had 6 billion
in the Deutsche Bank, and you know, most of that money still has not been
accounted for. So especially in Turkmenistan, which has – you know, has
probably the world’s fourth-largest supply of natural gas and a small
population, the average Turkmen could be living well, instead of which they’re
scraping by. There are high rates of drug addiction, prostitution, et cetera.
So you know, the robbing of the wealth of these countries is really at a
MR. COHEN: Thank you.
Mr. Smith has a question that he wants asked through his chief of staff, who is
now recognized. Mark.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you, Commissioner Cohen.
The background here is that we all see that the situation in Central Asia is,
you know, very discouraging. Probably the facts that we’ve stated here
underestimate the evils that go on there in regard to political prisoners and
imprisonment of people who speak out against the government. But it’s – of
course it’s very difficult for our government to work there. We’re dealing
with radically undemocratic governments who are positioned between Russia and
Still, there are people who occasionally get out and who are occasionally
released. And I’m wondering if we can look at that and discern some kind of
pattern. You know, when are people released? What’s going on there when they
are released? What are the circumstances that sometimes persuade the
government to release somebody? Is there a particular forum in which – in
which we’ve had more success in regard to this? Are there maybe particular
interlocutors who have had more success in getting people released? I’m
thinking here of – you know, we can examine our failures, their failures
forever, but there have been occasional successes, and you know, can we learn
anything from them that we could use in in targeting advocacy to have political
prisoners, human rights advocates released from prison?
And of course this is a question for all three of you.
MR. SULEYMANOV: There were indeed some releases of political prisoners in
Central Asia, but if we talk about journalists, the most recent one was the
release of Uzbek president’s nephew, Jamshid Karimov, journalist Jamshid
Karimov, from a psychiatric ward, where he was placed illegally, without any
court order or medical diagnosis. He spent there five years being drugged and
And as far as I understand, the release happened after the travel of our state
secretary, Hillary Clinton, to Uzbekistan last year, in September. I’m not
sure if she brought up his question during her visit and meeting with the
president, but that’s the only release of a journalist that comes to my mind
No other country has ever listened to calls by CPJ, human rights – any other
human rights groups or, I believe, State Department. Here I would mention the
case of Ramazan Yesergepov, who was jailed in Kazakhstan in – he was jailed
while Kazakhstan was holding chairmanship at the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe. So that means that the country and the leadership did
not pretty much care about the mandate of the organization or the mandate of
the chairman. They had the journalist in jail.
And what we would suggest is that we should repeatedly press on the governments
of those countries, all of them who have journalists in jail, and even – and
those who do not, like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – as far as we
know, there are no journalists in jail, but they do have history of imprisoning
reporters. And we should name and shame all of them and continue to work. And
we call on the U.S. government to continue to work with the authorities of
those countries to remind them that journalism should not be punished; that
press freedom is something that the government should be benefiting from; that
that’s what society is built on, a democratic society; that journalists are
actually helping the government to maintain link with the society. They are
not a threat.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you. So that the – what we saw there was advocacy at the
highest state-to-state level.
MS. COSMAN: Well, of course that’s an ideal, which hopefully is done more
often than we know about. And I think that is the case.
I think also international organizations – I mean, in addition to NGOs, you
know, obviously the OSCE, the calls of their various special representatives
and the permanent council and the ambassadors at the permanent council – in
fact I was told that by a Kazakh activist that when the – it was in an earlier
stage of the labor protests in western Kazakhstan that they were – they gained
a new level of international recognition as a legitimate labor protest, because
there was initially some questions about that, apparently, after the American –
after Ambassador Kelly mentioned that at a – at the permanent council. So that
had a big effect on international opinion. That was of course before the
violence, but still.
And obviously if one can mount a concerted campaign among various governments,
that would be ideal. But of course, as we’ve seen, what often seems to happen
is other aspects in the bilateral or multilateral relationship take precedence,
and of course it is a constant juggling act.
MR. UMAROV: Also a very interesting matter is because of lack of independent
political parties, and all system now based on the law enforcement bodies – and
for example, National Security Service, which is – was former KGB, during the
Soviet time, KGB staff of Uzbekistan was about 600 people in Soviet time KGB.
Now National Security Service, several thousands, maybe about 20,000 National
Security Service. So lack of the political elite, political force was
compensated by increasing the numbers of enforcement bodies and especially
secret service, security service, national – in that case, there have no –
because there is no independent press, so politician have not access to
independent information. And all information they’ve receiving through, for
example, SNB, national secret service, yeah? And they may shape the
information because as I said, too much control over society going through
National Security Service. So they’re shaping the information, which go to
the, to the politicians.
It’s very interesting now situation in Uzbekistan become, and – because for
example – (inaudible) – Uzbek authority using National Security Service, and
before also police, Ministry of Internal Affairs – they’re using to oppress
opposition, political opposition. In Uzbekistan, for example, word opposition
mean enemy. I mean, in the law enforcement. What is in the prosecution?
Opposition mean enemy – something, someone who – enemy who should be arrested,
something like that, or like in the former Soviet Union dissident was, and
means so now opposition enemy or free press enemy for giving information. It’s
very – now the society is very – a big deformation of the society in
Uzbekistan, I mean.
So they – if they want to start now, I think also the problem for them, OK, how
to decrease the number of the people who are now in the law enforcement body,
what they will do, what – and for this need to have reform also to start free
market economy to allow to people from these ministries go to the – make the
business, start to make the business, I mean, as of free – in the free market.
So we need complex of reforms.
And yes, I completely agree now what – we should start by reform, by law
enforcement bodies, of the court, establish the court system, the – for
example, the prison in Uzbekistan under Ministry of Internal Affairs in the
same system. And the Ministry of Internal Affairs also has investigator
department, investigation department. Inside of prison, chief of the prison,
sometimes they are renting the capacity – for example, brick factory in in
Kazultipa, half of the brick factory are rented by chief of the prison. So
they’re receiving the natural gas for the production with very cheap price
because it’s going to the prison. Price is not high; it’s very cheap price,
natural gas. And cheap labor – prisoners, it’s very cheap. And they selling
the brick over the – market price. And he own – he renting himself the
capacity, production capacity. So this is business, also, to them, to have –
and – in this case.
And I think also Ministry of Internal Affairs is interested to have more
inmates in the prisons, because they may arrest themselves because they have
investigative bodies. Or for example, secret service in counterespionage
department, there is special unit who fighting opposition. Secret service
fighting – for example, me, I was under their control. What can I – what
opposition, what normal people can do for – if there is 20,000 of national
security guards with pistols, I think? (Chuckles.)
In the summertime, yes, we had also the people who – from different bodies who
came to us, also, the – I mean, the people for reform, the people for progress.
There are people, young people – in the bodies, in different bodies, in the
ministries, there is people who joined us, who supported us during the
summertime before my arrest, I mean – progressively minding people, I mean. We
have these people, but we cannot and they cannot speak openly, for example,
because of the fear of arrest or fear of the – they will lose the job. And
this order coming from the – from the high levels, they obliging secret service
REP. COHEN: Good answer. Thank you.
If there are no other questions, I want to thank our panelists for their
dialogue and their statements and appreciate their efforts to edify the panel,
the commission and the public via the – is it the fourth estate? – let people
know what’s going on. And with that said, this meeting of the commission is