On the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to Uzbekistan, PEN sent the following letter urging her to stand up for human rights in that country.
October 19, 2011
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-2283
Dear Secretary Clinton,
We are writing on behalf of the more than 3,000 members of PEN American Center, an organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, to urge you to raise the cases of writers who have been imprisoned in Uzbekistan in violation of their right to freedom of expression when you meet with President Islam Karimov this weekend. With Congress currently considering a bill that would waive restrictions on U.S. taxpayer-funded military and police assistance to the Uzbek government, we believe it essential to establish that any such aid will be made available only if tangible steps are taken to restore and protect the fundamental rights of Uzbek citizens.
As we’re sure you are aware, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan remains extremely troubling, and the climate for freedom of expression has continued to deteriorate over the past seven years. Writers and activists are particular targets for political imprisonment, with 10 of our Uzbek colleagues currently in detention.
Among the most well-known is Mamadali Mahmudov, a novelist, poet, opposition activist, and recipient of the 2001 PEN/Barabara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Mr. Mahmudov was arrested in February 1999 and is serving a 14-year sentence in Chirchik Prison, Tashkent district, under Article 159, “Infringement of the Constitutional Order of the Republic of Uzbekistan,” for contributing to the banned Erk newspaper. Mahmudov wrote a letter in 2002 in which he described three years of torture and beatings, during which time he saw at least 11 people murdered by officials. He suffered three heart attacks in prison and there are concerns for his well being.
Dzamshid Karimov, who is the nephew of President Karimov and who worked as a journalist for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting before the Andijan massacre, disappeared on September 12, 2006. Karimov, who had been living in poverty, was a vocal public critic of his uncle. Two weeks after his disappearance, friends were able to ascertain that he was being held in psychiatric detention at a hospital in Samarkand, where he reportedly remains to this day.
We are also concerned about the following writers on PEN International’s case list:
Saldizhon Abdurakhmanov, journalist for the independent German-based Uzbek agency Uznews.net, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, arrested June 7, 2008, and sentenced to 10 years in prison on October 10, 2008, for his reporting of human rights, economic, and social issues. Abdurakhmanov is currently being held in Karshi prison, where he is being held in isolation.
Dilmurod Saidov, journalist and activist, arrested February 22, 2009, and sentenced to 12.5 years in prison on trumped up charges of extortion and forgery. Saidov is suffering from tuberculosis.
Bahrom Ibragimov, Davron Kabilov, Ravshanbek Vafoyev, Abdulaziz Dadhonov, and Botirbek Eshkuziyev, members of Nur (Light), a religious group, sentenced on February 16, 2009, to eight to twelve years in prison, reportedly for publishing the magazine Vesna (Spring).
Hayrulla Hamidov, poet and deputy editor of the newspaper Chempion (Champion), arrested January 21, 2010, and sentenced to six years in prison for “the organization or active participation in a proscribed social or religious movement” and “dissemination of prohibited material” under Articles 216 and 244-1 of the Criminal Code.
We were troubled to learn that the State Department has pledged to move forward with military funding for Uzbekistan if Congress approves the waiver on the existing and well-justified restrictions on aid to the Uzbek government—restrictions, indeed, that were imposed in direct response to well-documented human rights abuses by the Karimov government’s military, security, and police forces. Backing away from those restrictions advances neither America’s nor Uzbekistan’s long-term interests. As Uzbekistan seeks legitimacy in a troubled region, its leaders must be reminded that respect for essential freedoms such as freedom of expression is both a baseline requirement for full participation in the global community and an engine for long-term, sustainable growth.
We urge you to use your influence to press these crucial cases when you meet with President Karimov, and at every available opportunity, and to impress upon your counterparts the importance of reforming the system to end censorship and torture and permit Uzbekistan’s citizens to exercise fully their fundamental right to seek, receive, and impart information regardless of frontiers.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Steven L. Isenberg
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs