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Prison Sentences In Uzbekistan

The Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov continues to crack down on civil society. Sanjar Umarov, leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan coalition, a small opposition group, was sentenced this month to almost eleven years in prison on financial crimes charges. Mr. Umarov was arrested in October after he criticized President Karimov and the massacre of civilians in Andijan last May.

Also sentenced this month in Uzbekistan was Mukhtabar Tojibaeva, the head of a human rights group called Fiery Hearts Club. She was accused of slandering the government in an interview with Radio Liberty in which she said, "We do not need a government that does not follow its own laws." For practicing her right to free speech, she was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The Uzbek government is also targeting non-governmental organizations. Over the last year, the government has harassed and forced many NGOs to close. The few that remain are subjected to severe restrictions on their operations. In late 2005, an Uzbek court ordered Freedom House to close its offices in Uzbekistan. Among other allegations, Freedom House was falsely charged with illegally providing Internet access to human rights activists. Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor called the court ruling "just the latest series of actions trying to strangle any kind of civic action" in Uzbekistan.

In addition, Uzbek courts are pursuing the Eurasia Foundation for allegedly failing to register legally and holding unauthorized seminars. Based on what happened to Freedom House, the Eurasia Foundation has decided to voluntarily close its office after twelve years in Uzbekistan. Jeff Erlich, director of Eurasia's Tashkent office, said, "Looking at the experience of other international organizations, we didn't think we could win. So, we decided to liquidate ourselves rather than go through the court proceedings."

President Karimov's government may be clamping down on human rights activists and civil society organizations for fear of democratic movements such as those in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. But the lessons of history are clear: repression breeds extremism; democratic reform is the key to genuine stability. That is why the United States, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "continues to hope that the government of Uzbekistan will turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of reform."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.