Repression of Uzbekistan’s Secular Opposition Reaches New Levels

Nadira Khidoyatova, coordinator of the Sunshine Coalition, which unites one opposition party and several human-rights NGOs working inside Uzbekistan,was detained by Uzbek police on December 20, 2005 at

Tashkent airport. Khidoyatova, 37, was not presented with an arrest warrant, and state prosecutors did not present any charges against her until she had spent her first night in prison.

She has been accused of variety of economic crimes,such as tax evasion, expropriation of property and money laundering. If she is found guilty of these crimes, under Uzbek law she would likely serve a

prison sentence of five to six years.

Khidoyatova has been transferred to a pre-trial detention prison in Tashkent, where she remains at present.

Uzbek opposition and human rights groups consider Khidoyatova to be a political prisoner. Prior to her arrest, she spent two months in Moscow trying to raise awareness in Russian political circles about the increase in repression on the part of the Uzbek regime. Her sister, Nigora Khidoyatova, is leader of the Free Peasants Party, a key part of the Sunshine Coalition.

This is the second time that Nadira Khidoyatova has been arrested for her political activity. In 1995 she was arrested and imprisoned on similar economic charges after she had helped the former Uzbek ambassador to the United States, Babur Malikov, escape the country to go into exile and into opposition. At that time Khidoyatova was four months pregnant; after her arrest a compulsory abortion was performed on her.

Khidoyatova is a mother of daughter aged thirteen and a son aged three.

Her arrest follows the arrest of the leader of the Sunshine Coalition, Sanjar Umarov, on October 23, 2005, also for alleged economic crimes. According to his lawyer, who has been granted access to him only four times since his arrest, Umarov is being tortured and injected with psychotropic drugs against his will.

Another member of the Sunshine Coalition,Arif Aydin,a Turkish citizen and Nigora Khidoyatova’s husband,was expelled from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan in early December. Two weeks after his departure he was shot by unidentified men in southern Kazakhstan, and he died in the hospital two days later.

The attacks on the leaders of the Sunshine Coalition are just part of the Uzbek government’s recent campaign of repression against opposition parties, NGOs and independent media outlets. Facing official pressure, BBC shut down its office in Tashkent this summer, and in December, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was closed down by authorities. Activities of other NGOs including the Soros Foundation and Internews have been suspended as well.

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