For Immediate Release
May 19, 2011
Washington, D.C.: Today, a group of 4 members of the German Bundestag, the national Parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany, urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to raise the cases of Freedom Now client Azkam Turgunov and 12 other imprisoned human rights defenders in her government’s interactions with Uzbekistan (German version).
Lead by Viola von Cramon, MdB, the legislators commented that “the Uzbek government has a long record violating the basic rights of its citizens,” and declared that the “German government’s engagement with the Uzbek government must include a consistent and frank dialogue regarding its ongoing human rights violations.” The letter in German is attached and an English translation is below and attached.
Maran Turner, the Executive Director of Freedom Now, a legal advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. and retained to serve as Mr. Turgunov’s international pro-bono counsel, welcomed the letter. “This is an important initiative and I applaud the leadership taken by Ms. von Cramon and her colleagues in the Bundestag to highlight the continued and illegitimate detention of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan,” said Ms. Turner.
Mr. Turgunov is a human rights defender and opposition leader, wrongfully detained in Uzbekistan since July 2008. Before his detainment, Mr. Turgunov was working as a lay public defender and investigating corruption in the town of Manget, where he was arrested on fabricated charges of extortion. During an 18 day incommunicado detention, an interrogator poured boiling water on Mr. Turgunov’s neck and back, causing severe burns. After a flawed trial, the court sentenced Mr. Turgunov to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Now, at the age of 59 he weighs less than 50 kilos (110 pounds) and is forced to work 12 hours every day making bricks.
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
We write to ask your assistance in addressing the Government of Uzbekistan’s continued and widespread human rights violations. Specifically, we urge you to raise with the Uzbek government the cases of 13 imprisoned human rights defenders. Germany must maintain a principled position towards the protection of fundamental human rights in Uzbekistan.
Unfortunately, the Uzbek government has a long record of violating the basic rights of its citizens. After government forces killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters on May 15, 2005 in the town of Andijan, the European Union imposed sanctions against President Islam Karimov’s regime. However, the sanctions were lifted in 2009 despite the Uzbek government’s failure to improve the country’s human rights conditions. The Uzbek government continues unabated its violations of the human rights of its citizens. Government authorities arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals who exercise fundamental freedoms or express views critical of the government. The judiciary lacks real independence and the use of torture continues to be rampant. The Uzbek government interferes with the ability of national and international civil society groups to operate freely in Uzbekistan. In March 2011, the government forced Human Rights Watch to shutter its office in Tashkent. The Uzbek government also limits access to the country for international institutions, including eight UN special procedures that have requested invitations to visit Uzbekistan.
Of particular concern is the continued detention of 13 human rights defenders and independent journalists in Uzbekistan, imprisoned as punishment for their human rights advocacy. They are Akzam Turgunov, Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Abdurasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Habibulla Okpulatov, Yuldash Rasulov, and Dilmurod Saidov.
The detention of Akzam Turgunov is illustrative of how the Uzbek government treats human rights defenders. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Turgunov, the director of a Tashkent-based human rights organization and the local leader of a political opposition party, was working as a lay public defender and investigating public corruption in Manget, Karakalpakstan. Authorities in Manget arrested Mr. Turgunov and charged him with extortion in July 2008—charges that international observers have dismissed as fabricated means to punish Mr. Turgunov for his public and political advocacy. Authorities held Mr. Turgunov incommunicado for 18 days, during which time a police interrogator poured boiling water on his neck and back. After a trial that failed to meet international due process standards, the court sentenced Mr. Turgunov to 10 years in prison with hard labor. At the age of 59, he is now detained at a prison camp in Karshi where he is forced to work 12 hours every day making bricks. As a result of the conditions of his confinement, he now weighs less than 50 kilos.
We ask you to raise the case of Akzam Turgunov and those of other imprisoned human rights defenders with the Government of Uzbekistan. The German government’s engagement with the Uzbek government must include a consistent and frank dialogue regarding its ongoing human rights violations.
Viola von Cramon, MdB
Johannes Pflug, MdB
Volker Beck, MdB
Dr. Dagmar Enkelmann, MdB
Guido Westerwelle, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs
Markus Löning, Federal Commissioner for Human Rights