Khidirnazar Allakulov, who has been detained for nearly a week, says the government refuses to allow an opposition movement to develop.
Tashkent, Uzbekistan – Khidirnazar Allakulov was preparing for the first congress of his unregistered Truth and Progress Party when he received an unexpected visit.
On February 26 at 9 a.m. (2 p.m. GMT), dozens of paramilitary National Guard soldiers appeared at the door of his home in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and took him for questioning in Andijan, a city of Uzbekistan. remote town in the Fergana Valley.
The economist and former rector of Termez State University, a post he lost in 2004 while trying to tackle alleged corruption at school, has been charged with breach of privacy in posting a person’s data without permission.
But he is convinced that the case is an attempt by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to crush the opposition.
“The government is continuously putting pressure on us,” Allakulov told Al Jazeera, before attending a second hearing in Andijan.
“I have never broken the law. They just don’t want to let new parties get into politics. We tried to set up an organizing committee but the authorities did everything to prevent us from hosting the congress.
Other party members were unable to attend the convention because on the day of the event, the wedding hall they had rented had – some mysteriously said – closed for renovations. It was not the first time that the party could not come together for an organizational meeting.
“We have tried to bring our supporters together twice before. We rented a room, made the payment, but on the day of our meeting it turned out that they were organizing an event for the children of a local orphanage, ”said a party member who requested anonymity. in Al Jazeera, a few days before Allakulov’s arrest.
“The second time around, the owner of another venue we had rented informed us just before our event that someone else had booked the venue before us.”
Since Mirziyoyev came to power in December 2016, Uzbekistan has been on the path to reform.
After years of isolation under former President Islam Karimov, who ruled the former Soviet nation for 27 years until his death in 2016, the freedom of expression of Uzbek citizens has improved and a number political prisoners have been released.
However, the changes have not yet altered the country’s political landscape.
Despite promises of political openness, NGOs still struggle to set up and launch a political party, requiring 20,000 signatures of support – a difficult threshold in a country where many are reluctant to join causes. the continuation of Karimov’s authoritarian leadership.
Members of Allakulov’s Truth and Progress Party insist they have collected the necessary signatures to enter the Uzbek political landscape, although Al Jazeera has not been able to verify this claim.
According to experts, the problems the movement has faced in recent days show that on Uzbekistan’s path to democracy, the country has made little progress.
“This incident has proven once again the true authoritarian nature of the regime, which tries to persuade the world of its ‘democratic reforms’ while aggressively suppressing opposition voices like that of Allakulov,” said Dilmira Matyakubova, an expert from UzInvestigations, a local investigation platform.
“We continue to see elements of the police state using coercion and repressive methods through the security services. And that hasn’t changed since [Mirziyovev came to power]. “
A representative of the Interior Ministry in Andijan declined Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Allakulov returned home to Tashkent on Wednesday.
It is not known whether he will face charges.
“I’m home now, but I’ll be leaving for a party meeting soon.” The government and the security services will not arrest me. We will launch the party and we will fight for democratic Uzbekistan, ”he told Al Jazeera. “Nothing can stop us. We respect the laws of Uzbekistan and the establishment of a political party is our right. “