Dzhizak Authorities Continue Campaign of Violence Against Activists

by David Walther on 12/27/2005 · 6 comments

There’s something in the water in Dzhizak, a dirty industrial city in central Uzbekistan that has become a center of open clash between the government and human rights workers. But while action against human rights workers and NGOs will come as no surprise to anyone, as Dzhamshid Mukhtarov of Ezgulik put it on earlier this week, the targets of attacks and reprisals seem focused there specifically on people who are contradicting the governemnt’s official story about the Andijan massacre:

‘…Oppositionists giving the population of Dzhizak alternative information on the tragic events in Andizhan this May are being suppressed and harassed.’ According to the activist [Mukhtarov], 15 representatives of the human rights community were assailed and beaten and threatened with displacement in Dzhizak itself and its environs [since the events in Andijan in May].

It’s been a busy year in Dzhizak. The regional and city administration are fiercely loyal to Karimov and to the party line, and they have made it very clear that anyone who dares to question it will be dealt with severely. In addition to a violent attack this last week, earlier this year there was a virtual lynch mob that nearly killed one prominent activist, who the next week still dared to report on a government-organized “spontanious demonstration” against the “forces of darkness” and the “United States.”

In Mukhtarov’s case, the police had tried to set him up (with a much smaller trap than the $200,000 of last week, if that was a trap after all) with a “cunning ploy’:

A young girl turned up at the Ezgulik office in Dzhizak. She asked me to help her with the passport and employment. I told her right then and there that our human rights organization did not handle matters like of this kind but the girl went on insisting. She ended up inviting me to her house for a cup of tea. I turned the offer down. The girl kept returning every day. I managed to draw her out several days later. The girl confessed that the police had told her to compromise me or set me up in return for help with her problems.

This no whimsey liberal pansy, though. He taped the girl’s confession and brought it straight to the second in command at the regional bureau of Internal Affairs. Ulugbek Karimov, said officer, promised to “take measures,” and he quickly made good on his promise, though I can’t tell from Mukhratov’s tone if they were the type of measures he expected or not:

Two days later, on December 21, I was attacked. I was walking home at 10 p.m. or so when several men jumped out of a car and knocked me down. It happened so fast that I did not even see how many assailants there were, much less see enough to identify them afterwards. A blow at the head with something hard put me out. Some kindhearted pedestrians found me in the morning and helped me get to my place. Once I came to, I discovered that the attackers had got away with my tape recorder and a folder with documents in it. They had not been interested in money.

Like I said, I have a hard time figuring out what it was exactly that he expected when he confronted the authorities, but given their general attitude, he couldn’t have been very surprised. He goes on to say:

…human rights activists’ appeals to the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies are a waste of time. Instead of doing something or at least running an investigation, the authorities advise human rights activists to leave the Dzhizak region. Erkin Kholmuradov (he is chairman of the mahallja committee and parliamentarian), Akbar Khasanov of the counter-terrorism department, and other representatives of the local administration told me to get out more than once. My elderly mother was plainly told that unless I left of my own volition, a criminal case would be fabricated against me and I would end up in jail. Denied protection by the law, I therefore appeal to journalists to inform general public of the threat to my freedom and life and of the similar threats other activists of the human rights community and oppositionists are facing…”

Further into the article reminds us of the story of a female activist who was brutally attacked and hospitalized in August after attempting to meet with the British ambassador who was visiting the city (the English version mistakenly says it was the US ambassador, but it’s correct in the original). It’s clear that the opposition in Dzhizak is fighting a losing battle and that their lives are in danger.

There’s been a lot of discussion on this forum recently about whether or not opposition politics is actually physically dangerous in Uzbekistan. While opinions may vary, in Dzhizak at least, not only politics but even holding opinions, citing international media reports, or trying to keep money from public projects from being openly stolen by authorities remains indeed very dangerous.

Another very interesting nugget that comes out of these stories, though, is that in Dzhizak in particular (I don’t necessarliy recall seeing this in other regions) these human rights activists, when they are arrested, are rung up on charges of “islamic extremism” rather than the more sophisticated (but equally vague) financial charges that Tashkent authorities like to use. The Dzhizak authorities seem consistently more exhuberant about enforcing and maintaining the party line (along with an enthusiastic strain of America-bashing) and less concerned about being openly corrupt than their Tashkent peers.

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– author of 7 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Dave has lived in Tashkent for two years, and has no idea when he will be able to leave...

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David Walther December 28, 2005 at 1:00 am

Okay, so I’m appending my own post, and I’m doing it here because it’s just so easy. Seriously, I’d kind of like to make a collection of various tactics that the SNB and MVD (Int. Min.) use to try to trap people–I’d be happy to have other people participating. Maybe I’ll write a seperate post later, but for now here’s another:

This is a Forum 18 article from three years ago (it’s linked to a current article, this same Protestant pastor is still being questioned and harassed) that details how a group of SNB agents posed as BBC and CNN reporters and tried to trick this pastor into giving details about his contacts with foreign organizations. He refused to talk to them (would you believe a bunch of guys who show up at your front door and claim to be from two worldwide news networks?) and had the wherewithall to actually call the networks, who confirmed that it was a setup.

Michael Hancock December 28, 2005 at 11:33 am

Your article is very intriguing, but I have to disagree with you on one thing, which might seem minor to others, but not to me. I need to defend Jizzax [Dzhizak] because it was a good home to me during my very short stay there as a Peace Corps Volunteer between April and the end of May of this year. The people were universally friendly, and were openly supportive of the Peace Corps and having Americans in their city. I understand that we are not talking about the same people, of course. Also, I would not say it is any dirtier or more industrial than the average Uzbekistan city. In fact, compared to Angren or Navoi, it’s a Nature Preserve. It’s situated between the mountains and hills of the Farish region to the North and the mountains and hills of the Zarafshan and Samarkand areas to the South, and I had a couple opportunities to explore the incredibly beautiful counryside. Zaamin, a small village in the same region, might just be one of the most beautiful villages Uzbekistan has to offer.

Anyway, Jizzax has a pretty long history of being the site of ‘other events.’ By which I mean, the place where people react to the stuff that goes down elsewhere. When the Russians were nearly bloodlessly taking Tashkent, they were actually held off at Jizzax – until they returned with artillery and leveled the city, trading 1000 sarts [Uzbeks] for every Cossack or Russian infantry killed. During the Bolshevik heyday, it also saw its fair share of cloak-and-dagger action – which amazes me, considering the town was very much in rebuilding mode at that time. And then you’ve got the Sharif Rashidov years of the Cotton Scandal. Jizzax was his hometown, and he actually made several motions to have the capital moved there for a more centralized government location. Needless to say, Moscow wasn’t too keen on the idea, especially considering that then, as now, the population is much more Uzbek heavy than surrounding heterogenous population centers [Tashkent with Russians and Kazakhs, Samarkand with Tajiks, etc]. Anyway, Jizzax has had a pretty eventful past, and I just thought I’d throw in my two cents. And Not Just Because my girlfriend lives there. 😉 Anyway, I’ve heard from my old colleagues in the city that the government [aka the Akim] in Jizzax in no way speaks for a majority, and that demonstrations against America and Human Rights Programs are required, and seen more as a legitimate way to keep the riff-raff off the streets. Out-of-work 20-year-old Uzbek men are going to throw rocks at someone anyway – might as well give them 300 soums to carry a placard and rough up the opposition.

Anyway, that’s my story. As Ray Bradbury taught me, the only way to get smarter to stick your ignorant head out in the open and wait to get hit by teaching sticks. Bring it on, please – that was just my perspective, and I’m not really arguing with any of your points, short of saying, “Jizzax really isn’t a bad town, and is probably as pure an Uzbek a city as you’re likely to find outside of the Ferghana Valley.”

Nathan December 28, 2005 at 1:09 pm

You had to go and bring Navoi into this… As long as you’re in the city proper and not on the edge where you can see all the nastiness, it’s a pretty green city. That being said, the Jizzax area is really pretty.

David Walther December 28, 2005 at 6:30 pm

Hi guys,

I didn’t mean to bash Jizzax at all… I know perfectly well that the demonstrations there this summer were not “spontanious”, in fact I’ve never seen mention of any ordinary citizens in it at all. For the record, I’m very impressed with the pluck and the sheer guts of the human rights activists in Jizzax. Sorry of that was not clear in the posting. I spent enough time in Uzbekistan to know better than making any connection between the actual citizens of any city or region and the actions of their government or who their leaders are.

Bertrand December 29, 2005 at 2:33 am

The campaign described here continues.

Yesterday, Jamshid Mukhtarov’s 18 year-old sister was detained and is apparently being accused of a trumped-up charge of murder. Persons close to the family say she was not even in Jizzak when the alleged slaying took place.

Family members are not being told where she is being held.

Michael Hancock December 29, 2005 at 11:40 am

I think Nathan, David, and I are all understood here. Uzbekistan – lovely place with some drawbacks. And I want to also append my description of Navoi. I can easily say that my fondest memories of “Uzbek nightlife” involved a disco in Navoi, where I was a God on the dance floor, fueled only by pent-up-Volunteer-woe and low-grade Vodka. My cohorts of the night voted me “most valuable player” of the night, and it was the first time I was hungover to the point of not remembering the clear details of walking home afterwards. And I do like the idea of having nuclear power plant cooling towers and a ferris wheel in the same skyline… So, Navoi was pretty cool to me, and not just in the standard Soviet Surrealism.

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