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In Uzbekistan on Wednesday, a rare protest against allegedly corrupt judges took place at a justice department building in Fergana; an eastern town long associated with militant Islam. More than 20 people had taken part in the demonstration, the protest leader, Mutabar Tazhiboyevoye told AFP. Their demands included the resignation of 16 judges whose decisions the protestors questioned. Some 4,000 people are currently imprisoned in Uzbekistan for membership of banned religious organisations, rights campaigners maintain.

The demonstration had come in the same week that a delegation led by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan visited the Uzbek capital, local media reported. “The first deputy interior minister, Police Lt-Gen Bahodir Matlubov, received and held talks with the visitors. He talked about the main fields of Uzbek internal affairs bodies’ activities, placing emphasis on the legal aspects of their job. He also mentioned that police personnel were educated to respect individual rights and freedoms, which were based on the principle of the supremacy of the law,” the report said.

Tashkent has been widely criticised for its use of strong-arm tactics, including torture, against alleged Islamic militants.
Ramcharan wound up a two-week tour of the five Central Asian republics this week having visited Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

During his visit to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, the previous week, the commissioner urged the government to take real steps to protect rights and apply its new constitution in accordance with international norms. Ramcharan urged that the new constitution and other laws “be interpreted and applied in the letter and spirit of international human rights norms”, according to a UN statement.

He also called for the country’s ombudsman to be given appropriate resources and support. Perhaps to coincide with Ramcharan’s visit to Uzbekistan, a source at the prosecutor-general’s office told Interfax on Thursday that more than 900 individuals convicted for their involvement in radical religious organisations had been pardoned there.

The pardons are part of the amnesty procedure announced by presidential decree in December last year. Of the 5,000 who were amnestied, 923 had belonged to various radical religious groups attempting to overthrow the constitutional system, including the Hezb ut-Tahrir banned Islamist party, the report said.

In Kyrgyzstan, members of the same organisation were becoming more active as the likelihood of a war in Iraq grew, AP reported on Thursday, quoting a local intelligence official. “This is a real war declared by the United States of America against Muslim countries,” said the message from Hezb ut-Tahrir, according to a National Security Service spokeswoman, Chinara Asanova. “If you don’t want to become slaves, call for jihad (holy war) against every American. It is the duty of every Muslim,” it added.

While Kyrgyzstan is hosting US-led anti-terrorist coalition troops at Manas airport outside Bishkek for operations in Afghanistan, officials have denied that the base would be used for operations against Iraq, saying conditions for its usage are limited it to operations in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Bishkek announced that a special council had been established to deter political confrontation and promote democracy, which had been shaken by opposition protests for much of last year. President Askar Akayev said the new body would analyse the experience of various democratic institutions and suggest ways to adapting their methods to Kyrgyzstan’s. The council would also draw up a democratic code defining the moral and legal principles of democracy, Akayev said. His address was devoted to the country’s new constitution, which has been criticised by the opposition and international human rights groups for increasing the president’s powers and reducing civil rights. Akayev says the new constitution shifts power away from the presidency to a new single-chamber parliament.

In a sign of growing authoritarianism, Tajikistan’s parliament was examining a proposal to amend the country’s constitution to give the president an unlimited mandate, AFP reported on Tuesday. The proposal was reportedly introduced by the party of President Emomali Rahmonov, who came to power in 1992 and, according to current law, would not be qualified to contest for re-election in 2006 when his term runs out. But Mavluda Yussupova, a lawmaker from the president’s Democratic Popular Party, said that he “must stay in his post so long as he has the strength”. Rahmonov’s party has proposed that a referendum be held by the end of the year to decide the issue.

Staying in Tajikistan, a worrying AFP report from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, said, quoting a interior ministry official, that police had on Wednesday seized four kg of a radioactive mercury and arrested two people engaged in this connection. The mercury was confiscated in the north of the country where many arms factories used to operate prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The West fears that substances coming from such factories could be purchased by terrorist organisations to produce weapons of mass destruction, or so-called dirty nuclear devices.

Around 50 people, including prominent politicians, gathered in front of Turkmenistan’s embassy in Moscow on Wednesday to demonstrate against Turkmen President Saparyrat Niyazov’s authoritarian regime. “If the Turkmen authorities do not put an end to the repressions in their country, they will find themselves isolated from the international community,” said Vladimir Lukin, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament.

Niyazov, who was named “president for life” by his country’s parliament in 1999 and has taken on the name of Turkmenbashi, or Father of all Turkmen, is accused of widespread repression against any domestic opposition. The protesters urged the international community to take up the case of former foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, a Turkmen opposition leader sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly orchestrating a failed assassination bid on the president in November.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was set to appoint former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as its special envoy for Central Asia, the Finnish news agency STT said on Thursday. “The Netherlands [currently chairing the OSCE] turned to President Ahtisaari and got his agreement,” Aleksi Harkonen, Finland’s ambassador to Europe’s largest human rights organisation, told STT.

The OSCE extends into the territory of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia, with much of its work in the region focusing on isolationist Turkmenistan and its autocratic president. Ahtisaari, who helped broker a deal between NATO and Yugoslavia that ended the war in Kosovo in 1999, currently chairs the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential think-tank in Brussels.

In Kazakhstan this week, an appeals court has upheld a rape conviction against the dissident journalist, Sergei Duvanov, in a case sharply criticised by the international community. “This is a sign to everyone and a way of silencing Duvanov, who is an opponent of the government and the president personally,” the defence lawyer, Yevgeniy Zhovtis, told AFP. International observers and journalists had been ordered out of the court at the start of the hearing, the lawyer claimed.

The case against Duvanov, 50, has intensified concerns over media repression in Central Asia’s largest state, where independent journalists and the press have reportedly faced a wave of violent attacks over the past year. Duvanov, a well-known former broadcaster, had edited a human rights bulletin and was fiercely critical of the country’s authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

But while human rights and press freedom in Kazakhstan have raised concern internationally, the IMF has praised its economic reforms this week. A statement by the IMF on the results of its recent mission to the country said that “Kazakhstan’s impressive achievements in stabilising the economy, extremely favourable medium- and long-term forecasts for economic development, and the very low likelihood of the country needing the fund’s credits in future” meant that the IMF would not send a new permanent representative to the oil and gas-rich nation in August this year. The statement said that Kazakhstan’s GDP grew by 9.5 percent in 2002 and that the average pace of growth over the past three years had been over 10 percent.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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