The government of Uzbekistan, stung by the outcry in the West over its bloody suppression of a prison break and subsequent anti-government demonstration in May, has engaged for months in a ferocious crackdown against those who have tried to expose the brutality, said a report released on Monday by a prominent human rights organization.
The report by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based organization, said the crackdown included widespread arrests, threats and harassment and was directed at witnesses, survivors, human rights defenders, journalists and political workers.
The report says that some victims have been beaten and that some have been forced to issue scripted confessions on state television, saying that they were misled into attending the anti-government demonstration and begging for forgiveness from Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov.
While many elements of the crackdown have been previously described, including the indefinite detention of human rights workers and intense coercion against the families of refugees who fled Uzbekistan after the demonstration, the report was the most thorough description to date of the crackdown in one of the most autocratic of the former Soviet states.
It also framed the crackdown in the larger context of the unease Uzbekistan's leadership has displayed since revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have swept aside other corrupt and clannish post-Soviet leaders.
Karimov "fears he is the next domino," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in an interview. He said that the crackdown is not merely an attempt to airbrush the ugliest event in recent Uzbek history, but also a program to stifle dissent and the development of civil society.
The uprising, in the northeastern city of Andizhan, which survivors said was smashed by fusillades in the hours after it began on May 13, ended with the deaths of hundreds of civilians, according to survivors and investigations by journalists and independent organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Human Rights Watch.
Uzbekistan has thus far resisted Western calls for an open international investigation into the origins of the uprising and the Uzbek actions to disperse it.
Instead, it has described the uprising as the work of international Islamic terrorists. It has also shifted its foreign relations, aligning more closely with Russia and China. It has issued an eviction notice to the US for an airbase near the Afghan border that they have used since 2001.
Karimov, a former Soviet bureaucrat who has ruled Uzbekistan since its independence in 1991, has also suggested that Western governments have surreptitiouslyworked surreptitiously to overthrow him and even collaborated with the possible terrorists.
He further said that many Western journalists had advance knowledge of the uprising, as if they too were agents of some foreign plot.
He has offered no proof for his accusations, and his government stayed silent about the report after its release on Monday.