Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, a well-known human rights activist in Uzbekistan, was arrested at her home earlier this month. Human Rights First has mobilized its grassroots support network of over 6500 individuals to call on the Uzbek government to immediately release Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, and to end its systematic persecution and arbitrary detention of human rights activists who exercise their internationally-recognized right to expose human rights violations.
Ms. Tojibaeva was preparing to attend a human rights conference in Dublin, where she was to describe human rights violations currently occurring in Uzbekistan. Ms. Tojibaeva is the leader of the “Fiery Hearts” organization in the Ferghana Valley region and has been an outspoken critic of the May 13 massacre in Andizhan.
Like dozens of other defenders in Uzbekistan, Ms. Tojibaeva has become the target of intensified government repression in the aftermath of the May 13 events, when Uzbek military killed hundreds of unarmed, civilian protestors gathered in Andizhan. In the last few months, authorities detained Ms. Tojibaeva for several days without charge and prevented her from traveling within the country to carry out human rights monitoring activities.
“Ms. Tojibaeva’s arrest is consistent with the Uzbek government’s pattern of silencing human rights activists and suppressing the truth about the May 13 massacre,” said Neil Hicks, director of International Programs at Human Rights First. “The Uzbek authorities should immediately release Ms. Tojibaeva and end its persecution of those who expose human rights violations.”
On October 7, at 11 p.m., more than a dozen heavily armed and masked police officers stormed into Ms. Tojibaeva's house. The Uzbek authorities charged her with extortion based on a financial dispute with one of her employees she had settled earlier that day. Ms. Tojibaeva claims the accusations are unfounded and were trumped up solely to provide the authorities with an excuse to arrest her hours before she planned to depart for a conference in Dublin, sponsored by the international human rights organization Frontline.
The persecution of Ms. Tojibaeva is part of a severe government crackdown on independent human rights defenders and other critics who have spoken out against the government's use of force on May 13. Defenders have been persecuted for attempting to interview eyewitnesses and families of victims, report on violations suffered by the protestors, monitor official investigations as they unfold, or communicate their findings and opinions to the international press. More than a dozen defenders remain in jail, and some have been tortured or otherwise mistreated.