An open letter from Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov

Human rights activist Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov was released from prison in Uzbekistan in 2008. Blackheath & Greenwich Amnesty was one of the groups that wrote letters on his behalf. Saidjakhon has sent a letter of thanks to an Amnesty member in Scotland.  He wants us to publicize his letter so that others who have
also written letters and cards and petitions on his behalf know how grateful he is for their support and what a difference it has made. What follows is an unofficial translation of the Russian letter.

Open letter to Mr Angus MacEwan living in Lochinver, Scotland

You are the hero, not me

Dear Angus, this is a letter from human rights defender Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov from Uzbekistan, the one who after the Andijan events in May 2005, was jailed for disseminating information about those events.

You wrote two letters of solidarity to me. Being in prison, I could not reply to you and now I am able to reply to your letters, which I am doing with gratitude.

I was arrested on 21 May 2005 in Andijan and faced several charges such as disseminating information against the honour of certain individuals, creating panic, supporting religious terrorist organisation and attempting to overthrow the constitutional system of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The closed trial (almost secret) which took place between 4th and 5th January 2006, sentenced me to 7 years in prison.

I was released in February last year on the presidential amnesty, which is announced in our country every year. I had been in several prisons of our country for 2 years 8 months and 12 days. I want to say from the start that wherever I was kept, the attitude towards me was correct and the conditions were normal.

Whatever the attitude and conditions, a prison is a prison – a citadel of hardship and sufferings. And when a person does not know himself whether he is guilty or not, his sufferings increase a hundred fold. And I had to suffer a lot and live through many difficult days.

Today I am free. After several months of adaptation, I am gradually coming back to my previous human rights activity. In our conditions this is not an easy matter. Because of the Andijan events a new cold war could have been started. The Government thinks we human rights defenders and independent journalists are the cause for all the problems in our society. Of course this is not true. But still I am afraid to become another reason for the worsening of international relations. It is only rank and file people that suffer as a result of this and not politicians.

Unfortunately, there are more than 20 human rights defenders in our country who at the moment are still in prison. The International community talks a lot about them and calls on our government to release them. In its turn our government releases several human rights activists once every 3-4 months. But the local authorities are not in a hurry to release them all. Moreover, sometimes they put other activists into jail. Different orthodox religious organisations are permanently persecuted in our country. We have to hope that in the end our government not by words but by deeds will display its adherence to the principles of freedom and democracy.

Angus, in your first letter you wrote that in 2004 you came to Uzbekistan with a group of students and that you liked our cities of Tashkent and Samarkand and also enjoyed the unique Uzbek hospitality. I read about your impressions and was very proud.

True, our people are very hospitable. We even have a saying “A guest is more important than the father”. Perhaps, I think that the hospitality, which impressed you so much, stems from this saying. We are always proud of this.

Unfortunately, we cannot boast of a feeling of sympathy for other peoples’ sufferings. I don’t mean to say that we lack the feeling of being noble. But it is not at the same level as yours. For example, when I was in prison about 10 thousand letters of solidarity came to my home from 20 countries of the world. Out of this number 4470 letters came from Great Britain! Letters, postcards, photographs, posters signed by thousands of people came from more than 260 big and small cities and settlements of the UK.

I want to note here in the first instance the great contribution by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They successfully organised an action for my defence not only in the UK but also in other countries of the world. For that I say “a big thank you” to them. After contacting you I need to find the addresses and write to Canada, Moldova and Ukraine where these organisations conducted actions in my support and in which thousands of people starting from little children to famous rock musicians took part.

In another letter, Angus, you write that you were also put into a cell for protesting against the resumption of your nuclear submarines. In the same letter you expressed concern that there is a great threat looming up that the planet has no future at all.

Yes, military submarines are a terrible creation of mankind. During World War II the German submarines “Wolf pack” sank hundreds of British and American cargo ships in the Atlantic Ocean and in the North Sea. The Wolf Pack without any sentiments sank passenger ships as well. In our modern world submarines pose a sudden criminal threat not to the military but to the peaceful population in the first place. If I were where you were I would have joined you by all means.

As for the future of the planet, frankly speaking I did not understand you. If by the word “planet” you mean human civilisation, then I can agree with you. It is true by its unwise activity the humankind can perish itself in the near 300-400 years. But the biological life will come back on our planet and will continue without the man.

I read somewhere that the age of our planet is 4 billion years. During this time the sun has lost only 0.5% of its energy. If this is really so then the biological life on our planet will continue for at least another 4 billion years. I would like to say we live and learn; let’s see. Anyway, even to ponder over something is good. Don’t you think so, Angus?

In conclusion I would like to say a few words about one remarkable man from your country, Scotland. His name is Mr Craig Murray. He was Her Majesty Ambassador to our country between 2002 and 2004. I met him several times. He was recalled from Tashkent due to some talk about his name. But I can tell you, Mr Craig Murray is a real gentleman and his nobleness is worthy of imitating. I imagine you to be like him and I can tell you – you are a hero.

True, I was put into prison unjustly. I suffered and lived through many difficult days. But I am not a hero. You are the hero! Your compatriots and other people in the world who wrote to me “We think of you”, “You are always in our thoughts” – are the heroes.

I am sure at this point you would ask yourself: What kind of hero am I? I live in a small village in the very North of Scotland and have written only a couple of letters.

Yes, this is true. But you and other thousands of such people just like yourself, were saving the life of a human being. In this case you have saved me. The real heroes are those who save other people, I have not invented this definition.

Angus, thank you and your compatriots all over the United Kingdom for your sympathy and support!

A Happy New Year to you! I wish peace and happiness to you and your fellow countrymen!

With great respect,

Saidjakhon Zainabutdinov
Human Rights Defender