Human rights and civil liberties were the dominant issues impacting Central Asia this week, a five-nation region of some 60 million inhabitants.
In Uzbekistan, the area's most populous nation, the appeal case of journalist and human rights activist, Ruslan Sharipov, sentenced to five-and-a half years in prison on alleged sodomy charges, was postponed until 23 September on Tuesday after protests by activists outside the court in the capital Tashkent, prompted authorities to delay the hearing. Human Rights Watch (HRW) among others has been closely monitoring the case, which Sharipov claims was fabricated given his investigative work on human rights and corruption in the country.
In an earlier letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the watchdog group stated: “We urge the government of Uzbekistan to stop the politically motivated trial of Ruslan Sharipov; drop the charges under Article 120; and release him pending an impartial, independent review of the remaining charges against him,” adding: “Human Rights Watch condemns his arrest as an effort to suppress free speech in Uzbekistan and as flagrant discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation.”
Also in Uzbekistan, Tamara Chipunova, head of the Mothers Against the Death Penalty independent human rights organisation, reportedly said a death sentence handed down against Abror Isayev in December 2002 was unlawful. Isayev, who was sentenced to death by the Tashkent regional court on charges of premeditated murder and robbery, may well face execution, despite his mental illness, which Chipunova claimed had come from torture he had suffered during his interrogation.
Such reports are hardly new in the landlocked nation. Earlier this month, more than 10 Muslim women gathered outside the Margilan administration office, a town in the eastern Ferghana Region, demanding that the authorities cease torturing jailed Muslims. Police prevented the protest by blocking the road along which the mothers and wives were planning on marching - the second time this month.
To the west in Turkmenistan, a top European media rights advocate on Tuesday painted a grim picture of official persecution of journalists in Russia and the former Soviet Republics, calling the Ashgabat government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov the "most brutal". Freimut Duve, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Media Freedom representative reportedly said authorities in the reclusive Central Asian state manipulated the media in the same way as the Nazis.
Duve said that Turkmen media were forced to carry racist remarks in "a clear language of fascism", and transmit show trials of opposition politicians.
This is the backdrop to a statement by the US Ambassador to the OSCE who said that Washington would not close its eyes to human rights issues in Turkmenistan for economic reasons, calling on the energy-rich nation to reverse its increasingly restrictive policies.
"The United States cannot stand by vis-à-vis any country with which we have diplomatic relations and close its eyes to human rights issues even though in the commercial area and in other areas of cooperation there can be very productive relations," Stephan Minikies reportedly told journalists in the Turkmen capital. "We can't separate the two."
Earlier this month Saparmurat Ovezberdiev, a Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent was reportedly abducted and tortured by security officials in the capital, prompting RFE/RL President Thomas Dine to say: "Ovezberdiev's seizure is only the latest example of a long series of threats and harassment against RFE/RL correspondents by the tyrannizing government of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov that reaches back more than two decades."
Ashgabat has drawn strong international criticism for a crackdown after the alleged assassination attempt on Niyazov's life in November. Authorities have stepped up their monitoring of foreigners inside the country and some of those accused of being involved in the plot have been sentenced to life in prison in closed trials lacking due process, while family members had had their homes and property confiscated.
In Kazakhstan, reports circulated this week that a video showing jailed opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov of the Democratic Choice Party, pledging to leave politics, had been doctored.
Zhakiyanov had been sentenced in October 2002 to seven years in prison for abuse of power during his time as governor of the northern Pavlodar region. Opposition and human rights activists contend the case was politically motivated and part of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's campaign against dissent. The former top communist leader has ruled Central Asia's largest nation since it gained independence in 1992 following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Staying in Kazakhstan, Dariga Nazarbayev, the daughter of the president, chairwoman of the Khabar news agency's board of directors, as well as the Asar (All together) public association, formally announced her plans on Thursday to establish her own political party under the same name. "Only all together can we solve our problems. The point is not that we will solve the global problems of the politics," she reportedly emphasised.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Tajikistan, the most impoverished nation of the region, Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov received a delegation from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) led by the bank's director of operations coordination division, Adrian Ruthenberg.
As a follow up to the meeting, a memorandum of understanding of the bank's strategic programme for 2004 and 2006 was signed, stipulating that Dushanbe would receive a US $110 million loan to implement various programmes during that period.
Lastly in mountainous Kyrgyzstan, the World Bank reportedly appears set to allot US $5 million to rehabilitate storage facilities for uranium waste. The country has 44 such facilities and 28 dumps for uranium extraction and processing, a major environmental and health concern in the nation of 4.9 million. According to the World Bank, the rehabilitation of uranium storage facilities in the country will cost over US $20 million.
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