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Contribution to OSCE Review Meeting: Civil Society under Pressure in Central Asian Countries

22 September 2011

Twenty years after the Soviet Union dissolved and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan gained independence, civil society activities remain seriously restricted in these countries. In a joint contribution to the upcoming OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, two European and three Central Asian NGOs highlight how the authorities of the three countries continue to stifle the rights of their citizens to freely and peacefully assemble, associate and engage in activities to promote human rights.

Some recent developments, which can illustrate broader problems in this area, include:

  • Kazakh workers striking for equal pay with expat colleagues and non-interference in trade union activities have been fired, forcefully dispersed when holding meetings, and detained, fined and placed under administrative arrest. Two trade union leaders assisting these workers to promote their rights have been criminally charged and convicted;
  • Imprisoned Kazakh human rights defender Yevgeniy Zhovtis was denied parole because of reprimands for violating prison rules that he has received on doubtful grounds and without a fair consideration of his case;
  • The Turkmen authorities cracked down on the first protest action held in the country in years to demonstrate against the demolition of apartment buildings as part of a public construction project. The suspected organizers were arrested and residents of the houses in question evicted;
  • The website of Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights was hacked after it helped spread information about a serious accident that the Turkmen authorities sought to hush up. This shows that not even Turkmen civil society activists who live in exile are safe from harassment;
  • The Uzbek authorities kicked out Human Rights Watch from the country, thus closing the door to one of the last international NGOs working there. This was another serious blow to Uzbekistan’s alienated and vulnerable human rights community, whose members face ongoing persecution;
  • In another example of the dangers of speaking up on sensitive matters in Uzbekistan, two journalists protesting censorship and corrupt practices at the national TV station were dismissed from their jobs, arrested and ordered to pay heavy fines.

For more detailed information about these and other issues of concern, read the full text of the contribution by International Partnership for Human Rights, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan.

This year’s OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting will take place on 26 September – 7 October 2011. For more information, go to the meeting website.