The four were in Andijan province to document the post May 13 crackdown, and had been visiting the home of a human rights defender currently detained on charges related to the Andijan events. After they finished the visit -- in a village near Andijan -- at about 10:00 p.m., police stopped their car and said they wanted to determine whether the delegation's driver had been involved in a car accident that had allegedly occurred earlier that day. Police took the driver's identification papers, brought the group to a local police station, and then ordered the driver to drive to the alleged site of the accident at an unknown location.
The driver has said that he was not involved in any accident. When last heard from, at 2 a.m. Tashkent time on June 16, the delegation was on its way back to Tashkent, as police had made it clear that it had no other choice than to return toward the capital.
The four human rights defenders, who were on a mission for the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation, are Tolib Yakubov (an Uzbek citizen), Eliza Murzaeva (a Russian citizen), Eldar Zeynalov (an Azerbaijani citizen), and Dmitri Markushevski (a Belarusian citizen). Yakubov is also the chair of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. The driver is Abdurzai Dezhuraev.
Human Rights Watch said that after May 13 the Uzbek government launched a campaign to punish and intimidate human rights defenders who had spoken out about the Andijan massacre and to close Andijan to independent scrutiny. It has arrested at least ten human rights defenders and opposition activists in Andijan and other cities on trumped up charges. Others have been beaten by unknown assailants, threatened by local authorities, set upon by mobs, and placed under house arrest.
Human Rights Watch said that the actions by Uzbek police amounted to taking the delegation into custody.
"Taking an international delegation into custody is a clumsy attempt to intimidate all human rights defenders," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The diplomatic community in Uzbekistan must send a loud message to the Uzbek government that it will be held accountable for the safety of the IHF delegation and its driver."
Human Rights Watch was particularly concerned for the safety of Yakubov and Dezhuraev, who are both Uzbek citizens.
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