UZBEKISTAN: Rights Activist Faces 8-year Sentence After Appeal Fails
Thursday, June 1, 2006 9:50 AM

TASHKENT, 30 May (IRIN) - An appeals court in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on Tuesday upheld an eight-year sentence against prominent rights activist Mutabar Tojiboyeva, who was detained following the unrest in the eastern city of Andijan just over a year ago.

"Appeal court judges reaffirmed Mutabar Tojiboyeva's guilt and upheld an earlier sentence despite the fact that even prosecutors themselves had asked for a softer sentence," her defence lawyer, who declined to be named, told IRIN outside the court.

Tojiboyeva, head of the Ardent Hearts group in the eastern city of Fergana, was found guilty of 13 charges, including threatening public order, fraud, theft, blackmailing local businessmen and tax avoidance.  She was sentenced to eight years in prison on 7 March.

Her trial, held under heavy security, was slammed by human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), which described her conviction as part of "a pattern of persecution against independent voices and critics within civil society since the Andijan massacre".

Up to 1,000 civilians were gunned down by Uzbek security forces in Andijan following a demonstration on 13 May 2005, according to human rights groups. Tashkent puts the death toll at just 187 and has staunchly refused an independent enquiry into the killings.

"The ferocity of this pattern is unprecedented, even when judged  against Uzbekistan's 14-year history of repression since independence from the Soviet Union," HRW said in a statement.

Tuesday's appeal court decision was in some ways unexpected, given recent leniency towards two top opposition figures: one saw his sentence reduced by a quarter and another freed on bail earlier in May.

Tojibayeva is one of dozens of rights defenders and independent journalists who have been jailed or have fled the country following a government crackdown on dissent after the Andijan bloodshed.

Tojiboyeva was arrested on 7 October, the day before she was to leave for an international rights conference in the Irish capital Dublin.

Prosecutors said the activist had received more than US $5,000 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and $200 from the French embassy which "was used to breach public order and for slander and fraud".


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

Published in: "Rights Activist Faces 8-year Sentence After Appeal Fails," Integrated Region Information Network (30 May 2006).