Aramayis Avakian, a 34-year-old ethnic Armenian citizen of Uzbekistan convicted last month on a string of charges, including Islamic extremism and sentenced to 7 years in prison, has appealed the court’s verdict, his mother Flora Sakunts told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday.
Meanwhile, a committee set up in support of Avakian and four other people tried and convicted as part of a controversial case, has appealed to leading international organizations to put pressure on Uzbekistan’s authorities to ensure the rights of the defendants.
Avakian, a farmer from the eastern Uzbek town of Jizak, was arrested in September and was subsequently charged with promoting religious extremism and plotting to overthrow the government. According to his family, Uzbek authorities based the accusation on a text message sent to his friend’s relatives as well as the fact that he sported a beard at the time of his arrest. Avakian’s relatives insist, however, that he is a Christian and could not have had any ties with Islamist militants. They claim that his imprisonment resulted from a business dispute with a local official.
Avakian’s defense lawyer and relatives also said that Uzbek secret police officers had brutally tortured him in custody, trying to extract a false confession from him.
Yerevan-based human rights activist Vardan Harutiunian, who is one of the members of the so-called Avakian+4 committee which also involves Uzbek and international human rights campaigners, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that they have applied to diplomatic representations and plan to submit a package on the case to diplomatic corps and representatives of international organizations in Central Asia.
“We have brought the attention of such large international organizations as the United Nations, the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Freedom House to the circumstance that Avakian was convicted in an unfair trial,” he said.
According to Harutiunian, everyone can join their appeal through the website of Amnesty International. “Everyone tries to do something, because this case, in fact, has gone beyond the borders of Uzbekistan…Here the convicted person’s ethnicity is not that important. What is important is what kind of trial that was. It was an unfair trial during which a person was persecuted in a fabricated case,” the activist said.
A Central Asian state ruled by the authoritarian President Islam Karimov ever since the Soviet collapse, Uzbekistan is notorious for its poor human rights record. According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, “the Uzbek government has imprisoned thousands of people on politically motivated charges to enforce its repressive rule, targeting human rights and opposition activists, journalists, religious believers, artists, and other perceived critics.”
Earlier, some officials in Armenia also expressed concern about the case of the ethnic Armenian citizen of Uzbekistan. Late last year, Karen Andreasian, the then Armenian human rights ombudsman, and Elinar Vartanian, the chairwoman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on human rights, wrote to their counterparts in Uzbekistan, urging them to ensure Avakian’s right to fair trial.