Uzbekistan: Rights Activist Arrested

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Uzbekistan: Rights Activist Arrested

Activist Defended Farmers From Corrupt Land Grabs

NEW YORK - Uzbek authorities should immediately drop any unsubstantiated
criminal charges against Oyazimhon Hidirova, chairman of the Arnasai
Branch of the International Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, and
free her from pre-trial detention, Human Rights Watch said today. 

Hidirova was arrested on July 28, 2009 at the Arnasai District
Department of Internal Affairs on preliminary charges of hooliganism
(two counts), fraud, and tax evasion. Human Rights Watch is concerned
that Hidirova’s arrest and prosecution may be in retaliation for her
efforts to expose corruption by agricultural officials in Arnasai, a
district in the Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan. Since 2004 she has been a
member of the International Human Rights Organization, one of the few
human rights groups that have been permitted to register in
Uzbekistan. 

“Hidirova’s work to expose official corruption and abuse of farmers
may well have led to her arrest,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and
Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Over and over again, the
Uzbek government shows it cannot tolerate anyone who speaks out against
its corrupt and abusive practices.”  

Hidirova was detained for failing to report to the Department of
Internal Affairs for questioning. She had been summoned after an
allegation by the chairman of the local farm collective, Almaz Sodikov,
on June 25, that Hidirova had attacked him during an altercation,
causing him a light injury. As a result of the alleged assault,
Hidirova was charged with one count of hooliganism. 

The second count of hooliganism (for allegedly insulting a
representative of the regional government and threatening to blow up a
regional government building) and the tax evasion and fraud charges
were added after she was detained, said Ziyodullo Razakov, Hidirova’s
public defender (a non-lawyer who acts alongside a defendant’s lawyer
in criminal proceedings) and chairman of the Jizzakh branch of the
International Human Rights Organization. Razakov believes the
additional allegations were added to imprison her because the sole
hooliganism charge would have been insufficient to justify pre-trial
detention.  

Razakov says that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the
additional charges brought against Hidirova. The prosecution alleges
that Hidirova failed to pay 2,971,100 soms [about US$1,990] in taxes
from 2006 to 2008. The fraud charges arise from allegations made by one
of her workers, who claims that she sold him farm collective land for
4,500,000 soms [about US$3,015]. Hidirova denies the allegations.   

The second count of hooliganism and tax evasion allegations made by
Hidirova’s two accusers are due to be tested starting on August 18,
2009 at the Arnasai District Department of Internal Affairs, during the
“initial confrontation” (ochana stavka), a part of the initial
investigation in which two witnesses or suspects with different stories
confront each other. Hidirova’s lawyer, Lapas Kamolov, was informed
about the ochana stavka on August 13. Another “initial confrontation”
for the fraud charge was held on July 30. 

Following her arrest, Hidirova was held at the Arnasai Detention
Facility until July 31. On that day, Judge Lutfullo Mamarajabov of the
Arnasai District Criminal Court approved her arrest and ordered that
Hidirova be remanded in custody during the investigation, ignoring the
defense’s request that she be allowed to stay at home during the
investigation to care for her two children. Upon hearing that she was
to remain in custody and already weak from a two-day hunger strike to
protest her arrest, Hidirova fainted. She spent the night in a
hospital, and was transferred to Dustlik Detention Facility the next
day.  

Kamolov appealed the decision, but on August 3 the Jizzakh Regional
Criminal Court upheld her arrest and detention. The prosecution
contended that there was a risk that she would go into hiding or would
interfere in the investigation. On August 5, Hidirova was moved to the
Khavast Detention Facility.  

On August 13, Hidirova’s lawyer got a call from M. Nazirov, who said
that he was the new investigator and that Ilkhom Abdurasulov had been
dismissed from the case. Hidirova reportedly had refused to answer
Abdurasulov’s questions because he is related to Sodikov, the man who
made the original assault allegation against her.   

Hidirova’s house was searched on the morning of July 29, the day
after she was arrested. According to Razakov, a police officer, the
deputy director of the Department of Internal Affairs, and Abdurasulov,
the investigator formerly assigned to her case, searched her house.
Hidirova’s husband asked who they were and what they wanted, and they
introduced themselves and showed a search warrant, Razakov said. The
men said they were searching for weapons, narcotics, or banned
religious literature and CDs, but nothing was found or confiscated,
Razakov said. 

Background 

On June 5, Hidirova wrote a letter addressed to President Islam
Karimov, Prosecutor General Rashidjan Kodirov, the country’s ombudsman,
Sayora Rashidova and other officials, raising the issue of repeated,
unlawful land confiscation and re-sale by Faizullo Salokhiddinov, the
district hokkim, or head of the regional government. In her letter, she
alleged that Salokhiddinov had seized 17 hectares of her land and sold
it. She also alleged that Salokhiddinov and District Prosecutor Dilshod
Boinazarov had summoned her and threatened her with imprisonment if she
did not “keep quiet.” The letter said that if the land were not
returned to her, she would carry her protest to the capital. 

Ziyodullo Razakov, chairman of Jizzakh branch of the International
Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said that Salokhiddinov had
illegally seized about 600 hectares of land in one farm-collective
alone.  

Hidirova received several responses to her letter, including from
the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ombudsman, and the National
Center for Human Rights. In the letter issued by the Office of the
Prosecutor General, the Jizzakh regional prosecutor was asked to
investigate Hidirova’s allegations and inform the office of the
measures being taken by July 28. According to Razakov, no action has
been taken to date.

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