06/04/2008, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN
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Human rights activist released, many still in prison

Tadjibaeva released after two and half years, because of serious health problems but also thanks to international pressure. She had accused the government in the massacre of Andijan. Human Rights Watch: the worldwide community must insist that Tashkent release political detainees.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The activist Mutahar Tadjibaeva was released on June 2, after being arrested on October 7, 2005, for accusing the government of firing on unarmed demonstrators in Andijan in 2005.

Tadjibaeva, who has also helped many people to ask for justice, was sentenced on March 6, 2006, to eight years in prison for various crimes, like extortion, pollution, tax evasion, and participation in illegal organisations, in a trial that Human Rights Watch (HRW) says violated every right of legal defence: she was not allowed to prepare an adequate defence, nor to cross-examine many key witnesses.  She has now been paroled on suspended sentence, for medical reasons: she was diagnosed with a tumour on March 18, and underwent surgery at Tashkent Oncological Hospital.

After her release, she described the Uzbek prisons as "islands of torture" and denounced the mistreatment there.  She says her release depended on international pressure: in fact, it coincided with the visit of U.S. undersecretary of state Richard Boucher, who met with president Islam Karimov to resume closer relations, after years of diplomatic freeze over the massacre of Andijan.

In May of 2005, the army broke up peaceful protests by firing on the crowds, killing hundreds of people.  The exact number is unknown, in part because Tashkent has always rejected the idea of an international investigation.  Since then, the authorities have persecuted anyone who criticises the government over the incident, and have even arrested and threatened many of the witnesses.

Since January of 2008, the government has released seven human rights activists, some of them after they signed an agreement to cease their activities.

But  Holly Cartner, HRW director for Europe and Central Asia, denounces that in Uzbekistan at least 11 other activists are in prison for political reasons, and that "the treatment of Uzbek human rights activists remains abysmal. Uzbekistan's international partners should insist on the release of all remaining human rights defenders, and for them to be able to work freely".

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