03/21/2011, 00.00
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Uzbekistan expels Human Rights Watch

HRW reports a “deepening” human rights crisis in the country. Violence and arrests of opponents and human rights defenders are systemic. Torture is routine in prisons. The West is more interested in Uzbek gas than in human rights.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Uzbek government has expelled the staff of Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organisation dedicated to reporting human rights violations. According to HRW, the decision was a sign of a “deepening human rights crisis” in the country.

“With the expulsion of Human Rights Watch, the Uzbek government sends a clear message that it isn't willing to tolerate critical scrutiny of its human rights record,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement. Thus, it will be harder to report on abuses and those daring enough to report on them will be even more isolated.

The Uzbek government gave no reason for the expulsion, though HRW said in a statement that the decision came after years of harassment, refusal to issue visas and accreditation, actions that prevented its members to do their work.

The group had been present in the country for 15 years, and had slammed the government’s systematic violations of human rights, arrests of dissidents, opponents and journalists, mistreated and tortured in prison, whilst abuses were never investigated.

HRW accused the authorities of routine beatings with truncheons, electric shock, hanging by wrists and ankles, rape and sexual humiliation, asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, and threats of physical harm to relatives.

Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said on Tuesday that the EU had repeatedly urged top Uzbek officials to reconsider their decision not to grant Human Rights Watch accreditation and register the organisation's office.

HRW’s position started to deteriorate after it reported and documented events related to the Andijan massacre in May 2005, when Uzbek troops fired on peaceful protesters, killing hundreds. The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, which rejected calls for a United Nations commission of inquiry, backed in this by Russia and China.

Even today, the exact number of those who died in Andijan is unknown, far higher than the 187 admitted by the government, which also claims that protesters were violent, something eyewitnesses deny.

The country has vast gas reserves and Western nations have recently renewed ties with the Central Asia nation despite its lack of progress on human rights and failure to implement democratic reforms.

In addition, Uzbekistan is strategically important for NATO to resupply its forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and has started to sell electrical power in great quantities to its neighbour.

“Tashkent has apparently calculated that brutalising the population and stonewalling international reporting are cost-free," Roth said.

"The EU and the US need to prove this cynical calculus wrong and make sure human rights abuses will be noticed and carry clear consequences.”

The country is under the iron fist rule of President Islam Karimov (pictured) since 1989, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

Uzbek activist Mutabar Tajibayeva said that HRW was expelled after Karimov visited Brussels, where he met EU and NATO leaders, a sign that Europe was prepared to re-establish normal ties.

Ms Tajibayeva documented the violence and abuses committed during the Andijan crackdown and for this, she was arrested in October 2005 and sentenced to eight years in prison. After she was released in June 2008, she went into exile. In 2009, she received the Women of Courage International Award from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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