[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has said that Uzbekistan [JURIST news archive] is cracking down on dissent under the pretext of law, alleging Wednesday that two human rights defenders sentenced to nine years in prison on extortion charges were arrested in a pattern of criminal arrests designed to stifle dissent. Eleven human rights defenders have been convicted so far in 2006, and the latest were convicted without lawyers acting on their behalf. Uzbekistan sentenced [HRW press release] Azam Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov, both members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), to nine years in prison for blackmailing two men last week, but HRW claims that the two men were arrested in an effort to stop their human rights work [RFE/RL report]. Uzbek police dispute HRW's claim, saying that Farmonov and Karamatov, as well as a third HRSU member arrested last week, were not arrested because of their human rights efforts. UPI has more.
In a related development, HRW has filed a legal brief challenging the refusal [HRW press release; RFE/RL report] of German federal prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into former Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov for his alleged involvement in the May 2005 massacre [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of unarmed Uzbek civilians at the hands of government troops in Andijan. Former German prosecutor Kay Nehm originally refused to open a criminal investigation, and HRW is hoping that new prosecutor Monika Harms will order an investigation. HRW has more.