I was born in Uzbekistan and emigrated to the United States in 2001, when I was 14. I never expected to return to Central Asia. But after graduating law school, Freedom House offered me an opportunity to work in a country where I could use my Russian-language skills and interest in human rights: Kyrgyzstan.
I jumped at the opportunity, thinking Kyrgyzstan was progressive relative to its neighbors and that my work could serve a purpose. But the Kyrgyz authorities disagreed. Soon after arriving in Kyrgyzstan in October 2011, I was denied a visa extension on the grounds that my stay “lacked purpose.”
Determined, I discovered that I could simply exit and re-enter Kyrgyzstan every 90 days – a perfectly legal, albeit cumbersome process.
My work with Freedom House led me to the south of the country in February 2012. I travelled alongside the Freedom House deputy director and a USAID employee to assess women’s legal rights and to distribute toys to families suffering in the aftermath of ethnic violence in 2010, when over 400 people, mostly minority Uzbeks, died.
These were tense times, when many Kyrgyz bristled at international calls for transparent investigations into the violence, and subsequent trials, which continue to disproportionately target Uzbeks.
I later learned that soon after my trip the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) contacted the US Embassy (I am a US citizen) to inquire. That was disturbing, but the Embassy did not pass details about the MFA’s concerns to me.
With banners flying and policemen guarding the city’s main avenues, Bishkek is getting ready to inaugurate its first democratically elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, on December 1. But hopes for democratic justice are fading for one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent human rights defenders.
On November 29, the Supreme Court appeal of Azimjan Askarov and his co-defendants was delayed until December 20 when several lawyers for the accused failed to appear in court. The lawyers say the court purposefully informed them of the hearing too late.
Askarov, once a brave critic of police brutality, was convicted in September 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing other ethnic Uzbeks in attacks that killed a police officer in Bazar-Korgon, just outside Jalal-Abad, during the June 2010 ethnic violence.
The proceedings were punctuated by physical and verbal attacks by family members of the slain police officer on Askarov, the other defendants, and his lawyer. Throughout the extended appeals process the family has kept up the pressure, often with the overt support of local authorities. After one appeal in November 2010, local police officers reportedly joined family members in beating the defendants in a courthouse corridor.
Attacks on journalists are common in Kyrgyzstan. Attacks on Uzbeks are also common. Ergo, there is nothing surprising about an attack on an Uzbek journalist.
Shokhrukh Saipov was violently attacked in broad daylight on August 10. Saipov, 26, publishes UZpress.kg, which has reported on simmering ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan since violence last year left over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks, dead.
Shokhrukh is the younger brother of the late Alisher Saipov, a journalist murdered outside his Osh office in 2007.
“Half his face was missing,” Shokhrukh’s father, Avas, said, in comments carried by Uznews.net. Avas fears his son did not receive adequate medical care because of his ethnicity, the report said. That is a legitimate concern given the rise of aggressive Kyrgyz nationalism since the ethnic violence.
Uzbek-Kyrgyz babies: What could be a better way to build peace in pogrom-torn southern Kyrgyzstan?
The Soviets gave women “hero mother” awards for having lots of children. Vladimir Putin organizes camps where young Russians learn to be healthy, sexually active patriots.
Now, with a nod toward a Benetton commercial, amateur eugenicists in Osh Province -- actually, a handful of local officials -- have proposed a new technique to make Uzbeks and Kyrgyz friends again: inter-ethnic marriages. And with the marriages, we can assume, should arrive a generation of children a little more tolerant than their parents’.
Of course, mixed marriages aren’t new in the region. But many took a blow during the ethnic unrest last summer, when 400 people died and hundreds of thousands fled. Resentments still abound and it seems the tensions could explode into more bloodletting at any moment.
That’s what makes this initiative, however small and quixotic, special. Framed as a means to get any teachers to marry, officials promise to pay 20,000 som (about $420) to newlyweds from the poverty-racked profession and a whopping 100,000 som for every union between Uzbek and Kyrgyz teachers.
Baby steps, perhaps, but hopefully toward a lasting peace.
o Yakin Ertürk of Turkey, a professor of sociology of the Middle East Technical University, formerly the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women from 2003-2006, also elected to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in November 2009.
Another former UN official Kiljunen invited to the commission:
o Ralph Zacklin of the UK, former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, member of the Special Commission for Inquiry in Timor-Leste.
Three other members are former government officials:
o Brigitte Orbett of France, judge of the Paris Appellate Court, Secretary General of the French Office for Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons.
o Rein Mullerson of Estonia, former First Deputy Foreign Minister, President of the Law Academy of Tallinn University, former UN Regional Adviser for Central Asia.
Vasila Inoyatova speaks with Ambassador Richard Norland, former U.S. envoy to Tashkent, on Martin Luther King Day January 2010.
Despite increasing pressure from Uzbek authorities on independent journalists and human rights advocates, Vasila Inoyatova, chair of the non-governmental group Ezgulik (Mercy), is among the civic leaders of Uzbekistan determined to continue working, the activist said in a recent interview with EurasiaNet in Warsaw.
As the Uzbek government is cracking down on activists, Inoyatova is concerned that Western governments have grown weaker in their protests, forced to cooperate with Uzbekistan in the interests of energy and security, particularly in the maintenance of the Northern Distribution Network to enable supplies to NATO's troops in Afghanistan.
Last week, Inoyatova attended the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Review Conference in Warsaw, hoping to draw attention to a number of cases, including libel charges her own group is facing related to the same case for which human rights monitor Sukrat Ikhramov was sentenced. The OSCE Centre in Tashkent was able to support her airfare, but before her departure, an official of the Centre warned her "not to be emotional" and to watch what she said -- a message the Kazakh chair-in-office delegation reinforced by telling NGOs at the conference “not to defame the state”.
A court in southern Kyrgyzstan has sentenced two ethnic Uzbeks to three years in prison for writing “SOS” on the gate of a private home during June’s deadly clashes between the region’s Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, AKIpress reported Friday. The Kara-Suu District Court ruled that Uktomjan Ahmatjanov and Islamjan Husanov had incited interethnic conflict by spreading rumors that troops from neighboring Uzbekistan would come to the aid of local Uzbeks and by painting the SOS sign to help these forces – actions the court deemed to have turned Uzbeks against Kyrgyz. The men were accused of committing their crime on June 12, when many Uzbek neighborhoods had already barricaded themselves against armed mobs.
The conviction adds to a growing list of guilty verdicts against ethnic Uzbeks, who, rights advocates fear, may be getting a disproportionate share of the punishment for June’s clashes, which killed hundreds and displaced thousands. While both ethnic groups unquestionably took part in and suffered from the violence, a recent report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that all 24 defendants in three major June-related trials (not including the SOS case) were ethnic Uzbeks, and many of them received exceptionally harsh sentences.
Commenting on the microblog site Twitter about Askarov's life sentence, Sardar Bagishbekov, a human rights activist and head of the Voice of Freedom website in Kyrgyzstan said, "the judge in the case of Askarov and 7 others was simply morally unprepared to objectively review the case, I saw this in everything about the trial in Nooken."
Judge Nurgazy Alimbayev pronounced Askarov guilty on charges of complicity to commit homicide and murder of a police officer (two separate counts related to the same incident), possession of ammunition and extremist literature, and attempted kidnapping, reported ferghana.ru. Local and international human rights activists denied the charges, saying Askarov had been singled out for retaliation.
Research by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicates the charges are unfounded and that Askarov may have been targeted for revenge by Jalal-Abad law enforcement because of his documentation of human rights violations, including by local police, in southern Kyrgyzstan . Authorities incriminated him for incidents in the region during unrest in May, when in fact he had documented proof he was in Bishkek, notes CPJ. Prosecutors also failed to prove Askarov was on the scene in Bazar-Korgon at the time the police office was killed.
“We are outraged by the sentence delivered today in Jalal-Abad to Azimjon Askarov, and call on Kyrgyzstan’s higher courts to overturn his verdict,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Nina Ognianova in a press release today.
Bishkek's investigation into June’s ethnic violence seems more about fingering easy blame - and buttressing nationalist fantasy - than uncovering truth. Members had previously agreed to release their findings on September 10, but it looks like they couldn't wait.
Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva established the National Investigative Commission on July 15 to research the June ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan that left at least 370 dead and more than 2,000 wounded.
Zhypar Zheksheev, a member of the commission, suggested we foreign journalists have blood on our hands because we were poking around in the South before most of the violence started. Our presence in May, for example, demonstrates we knew the ethnic violence would occur.
“We have instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review the date of publication [of these foreshadowing articles] and to evaluate their content. In addition, we intend to find out who accredited and invited these media outlets and how they learned in advance about how and what will happen in reality,” he said on August 17.
With all due respect, Mr. Zheksheev, it didn’t take a genius to see the place was imploding. In fact, here’s a story from May 19 about ethnic violence in Jalalabad.
Zheksheev is continuing a tired narrative blaming the foreign press for being, we hear ad nauseam, “anti-Kyrgyz.”