Where Is Hasan Choriev?

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On June 17, two policemen came to the home of 71-year-old Hasan Choriev in Qarshi, Uzbekistan. They asked him to come to the prosecutor’s office for a “conversation.” No one has seen him since.

It wasn’t Choriev’s first encounter with the authorities. His son Bakhodyr is the leader of the Birdamlik (Solidarity) opposition movement. Under pressure from the authorities, Bakhodyr left Uzbekistan in 2004 and eventually reached the United States, where he received refugee status for political persecution. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with his family. He still gives interviews, holds protests, and publishes statements condemning the government of President Islom Karimov, which is among the most repressive in the world, bordering on totalitarian. Back in Uzbekistan, the elder Choriev has faced fines in his own conflicts with local authorities.

This time appears to be different. The only direct information his family has received came in a short telephone call from Hasan on the night of June 17. He said he was in the basement of the general prosecutor’s office in Qarshi and had been arrested for the rape of a young woman. His remaining family members in Uzbekistan set out to find him. They went to the prosecutor’s office, to the police, to the State Committee for National Security, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. No one would acknowledge holding Choriev.

Two days later, on June 19, the family got a call from a lawyer claiming to have been assigned by the state to represent Choriev. Government-appointed attorneys in Uzbekistan are notorious for serving the state, not their clients. “Why aren’t you looking for your father?” he asked. “He’s been sitting in jail for two days and no one has come for him.” But when his family tried to see Choriev at the prosecutor’s office, they were told they could not visit him without the presence of the investigator, who, as it turned out, was on a 15-day business trip.

The family tried to meet with the state-appointed lawyer. First he was on his way to the capital, Tashkent. Fine, they said, we’ll meet you in Tashkent. When they got there, he said he had left, and was on his way back to Qarshi. Okay, we’ll meet you there, they said. He dodged their attempts for six days. The family hired their own lawyer, but he hasn’t been allowed to see his client, in complete contravention of Uzbek and international law.

Meanwhile, the Choriev family in Uzbekistan has come under increasing pressure. On July 3, more than two weeks after the arrest, they went to the prosecutor’s office in Qarshi to protest Hasan’s incommunicado detention. As soon as they got off the bus in front of the office, they were attacked by a group of about 20 people, mostly women, who beat and struck them. The leader of the regional branch of Birdamlik and a local human rights defender were both injured. No one from the prosecutor’s office came out to stop the attack. On July 6 a court fined the protesters about $2,200 each for holding an unsanctioned demonstration, a staggering sum in a country where per capita gross domestic product is about $1,500. The people who attacked them were never arrested or charged.

The investigator returned from his 15-day business trip. But now, he said, you need to wait a few more days to see your father. It’s been 28 days already, and Hasan Choriev’s family cannot even say what prison their 71-year-old father is held in, or even whether he is alive or dead. No one has seen him since June 17.

Why is this happening now? It is always difficult to answer such questions in an opaque country like Uzbekistan, where international organizations have been banned, the independent media crushed, the political opposition exiled and imprisoned. However, President Karimov is 75, and a leadership transition will come sooner or later. Whoever hopes to take power after Karimov is certainly laying the groundwork for the delicate handover already, and that can hardly bode well for people perceived as political threats, whether they are inside or outside the country. Recent events point to a worsening of already awful conditions. In April, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is famous for its patience with abusive governments and its policy of private communications, demonstratively ceased conducting prison visits in Uzbekistan. The government, the ICRC said, could not be trusted. “Visits must have a meaningful impact on detention conditions, and dialogue with the detaining authorities must be constructive. And that’s not the case in Uzbekistan.” The limited “civil society” still operating in Uzbekistan—more accurately a handful of besieged activists with enough international pull to keep the government from throwing them straight into jail—is dealing with intensifying arrests and persecution.

Or it could be that Choriev’s situation is just part of the routine churn of repression and impunity in Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, after 22 years of “transition” from Soviet rule, this country is still the sort of place where the disappearance of a Hasan Choriev is normal.

The United States government can make a difference in this case, and has an unmistakable interest in doing so. Hasan’s family members reside in the United States and have built good lives for themselves in St. Louis. Some have applied for U.S. citizenship, and they are a part of American society. At the very least, the U.S. State Department can make its concerns public by putting a statement on the Tashkent embassy website, using the embassy Twitter account or Facebook page to ask for information about Hasan’s whereabouts, or dedicating two sentences to his case during a daily press briefing. There is a time for quiet diplomacy, but if it doesn’t work, it is time to speak out.

Photo courtesy uznews.net

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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