LETTER ABOUT THE VIVID CASE OF VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIOLATION OF LAW IN UZBEKISTAN

LETTER ABOUT THE VIVID CASE OF VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIOLATION OF LAW IN UZBEKISTAN

Miraziz Bazarov

My name is Miraziz Bazarov and I am a local blogger in Uzbekistan. As a citizen of Uzbekistan, I must bring your attention to the situation with the violations of human rights, freedom of speech and violation of law when it comes to bloggers in Uzbekistan as the recent weeks have clearly demonstrated this. I am pleading for your help, sympathy, and ability to influence the situation. 

1.    Recently I have published a series of posts in my Facebook account and Telegram channel about the possible misuse of international aid (mostly in form of loans from international financial institutions) and also published an official letter (also an open letter) to ADB about the possible facts of corruption related to ADB funding allocated to help Uzbek people to cope with severe pandemic but being absolutely misused by the Uzbek Government[1].


2.    Right after I published information about this letter in my Facebook account and Telegram channel (on Friday, 24 July 2020 in the evening), on Monday, 27 July, 2020, I received a call from local secret police (State Security Service – SSS, former KGB) from officer Mr. Ergashev that I need to visit their office and tell information that allegedly can help to solve some crime. I instantly realized that I might be frightened by the SSS officer and thus asked them to send and official summon and then I will come to the office of SSS.


3.    The SSS officer called me in the morning and right after I asked about the official summon, the representative of SSS served a summon to my mother with the request to come to SSS office on 16-00 (the summon was served to my mother on 15-30). I published the information about the call and the summon in my Facebook account and Telegram channel. [2]


4.    After I published information, I contacted a lawyer and tried to call to the number that was written in the summon and tried to contact the SSS officer that called me. I did not receive any reply. The next day, I called both telephone numbers (one written in the summon and another is the work number of Mr.Ergashev) many times and after many calls I received a reply by the SSS officer that I should come to the SSS office in about 30 minutes or as soon as possible.



5.    After arriving to the SSS office, the receptionist told us we should wait for a few minutes. In about an hour she told us that we could come to visit the SSS officer Ergashev but I it advisable for me to visit the SSS officer without a lawyer. The similar advice was given by the security guards right before the entrance to the office.



6.    After we refused to their request (given the fact it is against the local law to pressure a person who come with a lawyer to talk with the SSS officer without the one), the security guards closed the door to the office as they told us they need to consult with the SSS officer Ergashev. After the consultations (which took about 10 minutes), they told we could come in and started to check out temperature, under new, COVID-19-related sanitary norms. The thermometer has shown that the lawyer has a temperature of 37C, and my temperature is 35.7C, and that according to the rules of quarantine, a lawyer should not be allowed in. We refused to do so as we believed the temperature measurement was incorrect.



7.    Later, our documents were returned to us and the security guard told us that the SSS officer Ergashev said that we can go because my testimony is not important for the case, and it will be possible to come on another day (when the thermometer shows 36.6 at the lawyer’s office), or even contact by the phone call. However, later, I could not get Mr. Ergashev on the phone (the lawyer has indicated this in the formal complaints, the copies of which I published in my Telegram channel[3])


8.    On the same day, July 27 July 2020 I started to receive numerous SMS-messages and emails with the codes of activation, and information about the registration and resetting passwords in different services. On 20-30 in the evening I started to receive SMS-messages with the notifications about different paid services being turned on and off. Soon after I did not have any money on my account balance, and I left without internet connection.


9.    I send the request to check the situation to the technical support of the mobile operator – Beeline Uzbekistan (Unitel LLC, which is part of VEON Ltd). Later the technical support told me that someone might logged in to my account (related to my telephone number) from a computer a long time ago via an SMS code, which they immediately deleted and waited until July 27, 2020 to start turning on and off paid services to that I could be left without the mobile internet connection.



10. I consulted with several specialists who work in Telekom industry (both in Uzbekistan and in other countries) and they told me that they way the technical support explained the situation is not realistic and the only realistic reason is that the SSS officer “pressured” the management of Beeline Uzbekistan to do this operation. Because of this I send an official complaint to the Tashkent city prosecutor, but I have not received any reply yet (the handwritten complaint is published in my Telegram account)[4]


11. On July 30, 2020, I, together with Vlad Avdeev and Darin Solod, both work in Hook Report (the local online media that on July 29, 2020 wrote about my situation with the SSS officer and the letter to ADB about corruption) have received a number of messages about the fact that three of us are registered at the online service that demonstrates the contacts of local prostitutes with our photos and mobile numbers being disclosed (the screenshots of those “contact pages” can be found in Telegram channels[5]).


12. The situation described previously is particularly dangerous for me and Vlad Avdeev. While posting our photos and leaking our telephone numbers in online “prostitute listing” can be a form of slander to frighten us, me and Vlad Avdeev were listed as “gay prostitutes”, which may be particularly dangerous in homophobic Uzbek society as both of us may become the victims of attacks not to mention that homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan and thus we might be prosecuted by the government based on this defamation.  


13. This situation should not be considered as something unique but to be put in the context of growing pressure to the freedom of speech and human rights in the country. Umid Gafurov, the owner of Troll.uz blog (one of the most popular local blogs), in the comments section to my post[6] stated that during his work at Troll.uz blog he received numerous calls from local police and local secret police with the demand to delete something and he often had to put up with such censorship because he does not know whether any law enforcement agency or any institution (be it prosecutor’s office or court) will help him. The situation that I encountered is one of many cases that show how vulnerable bloggers are in Uzbekistan, the recent case is pressure on bloggers and journalists in Karakalpakstan region that was widely reported even in local media[7]




14. As I mentioned in the letter to ADB, because of the growing dissatisfaction of Uzbek people with increased corruption during the lockdown, the Uzbek government has imposed measures to limit free access to some social media, in particularly Facebook. People are forced to use VPN services as it was during the time of the previous president.



Taking into account this situation, I ask your organisation on behalf of Uzbek bloggers:


1.    To pressure Uzbek government to ensure no pressure or censorship is enforced to local bloggers

2.    To ask VEON Ltd that owns local mobile operator Beeline Uzbekistan (Unitel) to investigate about the facts of illegal shutdown of my mobile internet connection

3.    To ask Uzbek government to stop blocking Facebook or any other social network and media unless it is officially banned in Uzbekistan.



Sincerely,

Miraziz Bazarov


[1] here is the copy of the letter - https://telegra.ph/Letter-to-the-Board-of-Directors-of-the-Asian-Development-Bank-07-24)

[2] https://t.me/bazarov_channel/294

[3] https://t.me/bazarov_channel/299 , https://t.me/bazarov_channel/304

[4] https://t.me/bazarov_channel/322

[5] https://t.me/catseditor/549, https://t.me/black_raven69/3119 , https://t.me/black_raven69/3116

[6] https://www.facebook.com/mbazarov/posts/3203221219734194

[7] https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/30755833.html?withmediaplayer=1