Death threats against Memorial's Central Asia staff | Den norske Helsingforskomité

Investigate threats against Memorial Central Asia staff

Investigate threats against Memorial Central Asia staff

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was distressed to learn of serious, anonymous threats made against the Central Asia Program Director of Human Rights Center Memorial, Vitaliy Ponomarev, on 12 January 2012 and urges Russian and Uzbekistani authorities to open an investigation.

Mr. Ponomarev is a prominent human rights defender and researcher based in Moscow, who has led Memorial’s important work in Central Asia since 1999. On 12 January, he received several e-mails from different internet addresses, containing disturbing death threats against himself and members of his family.

While the threats were made anonymously, they were sent from the same IP-address, found to be located in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The emails themselves were made to appear to be from ethnic Uzbeks residing in the south of Kyrgyzstan. However, Memorial reported that linguistic analysis indicates the use of an Uzbek dialect used in Tashkent rather than in Kyrgyzstan.

Human Rights Center Memorial has reported the threats to the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) and the Prosecutor General’s office, requesting that an investigation into the threats be carried out.

- Unfortunately, threats against human rights defenders have become commonplace in the CIS. The reason for such threats can often be hard to pinpoint, said Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Bjørn Engesland. - In Mr. Ponomarev’s case, the threats would seem to come from persons who are concerned at the unusually high quality of his work to expose human rights violations.

Having published his first article, “Kyrgyzstan: The Unknown Republic” in 1989, Vitaliy Ponomarev has gone on to research and publish an impressive list of articles, reports and books on human rights in Central Asia over the past two decades. Common to all his work is a scrupulous attention to fact-checking, detail and objectivity. His reports are read not only by experts and members of civil society, but equally by government officials in the CIS and elsewhere.

Among his numerous publications are reports such as “Civil organizations in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan 1987-1991”, “Islam and the political struggle in the CIS”, “Government policy and human rights in Turkmenistan”, “The threat of Islamic extremism in Uzbekistan: Myths and reality”, “The events in Ashgabat 10-13 September 2008”, “Kyrgyzstan: Human rights violations during the events in Nookat” and “Political repression in Uzbekistan 2009-2010”.

In 2012, Memorial, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Freedom House published the joint report "A Chronicle of Violence: The events in the South of Kyrgyzstan in June 2010”, followed by presentations in Moscow, Bishkek, Vienna and Brussels. Vitaliy Ponomarev’s most recent report for Human Rights Center Memorial was published in late 2012, and is entitled “Russian security services vs. Risale-i Nur” (in Russian only). Most recently, a press release from Memorial drew attention to threats of torture made by members of the Uzbek security services against a citizen of Uzbekistan detained in Moscow. The man later committed suicide in custody.

- We encourage Russian and Uzbekistani authorities to investigate these threats to establish their origin, and to take all necessary measures to hold the perpetrators accountable, concluded Bjørn Engesland.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted by the General Assembly in 1998, and places a responsibility and duty on States to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration".