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In Uzbekistan’s jails, torture is an everyday occurrence

Trumped up charges, persecution of foreign citizens and extended sentences — this is the face of justice in Uzbekistan. 

Fergana News
13 January 2017
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Prisoners of the most cruel colony in Uzbekistan - Jaslyk, known for boiling prisoners to death. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Uznews.net / Flickr. Some rights reserved.This article has been translated from the Fergana.News information agency, a leading source of information on Central Asia.

Over the last 15 years hardly a day has gone by without our editorial team receiving reports of harsh court sentences, torture and physical abuse in Uzbek prison camps, as well as the unjustified extension of sentences and complaints from prisoners’ families who have sent hopeful letters about their misfortunes to state agencies. This situation has not changed in years, and all the representations of human rights campaigners and appeals to officials remain unanswered. Aggressive interrogation, unfair trials and torture in prisons are endemic and, indeed, central to Uzbekistan’s law enforcement system.

The first person to report on the “systematic” and “widespread” use of torture in the country was the Dutch legal specialist Theo van Boven, who from 2001 to 2004 was the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture. He visited Uzbekistan at the end of 2002 and immediately encountered problems in monitoring the workings of its law enforcement and penal system.

Independent observers have practically no access to criminal trials or sentencing and no way of establishing the conditions in which prisoners are kept

It is still impossible to detail the routine infringements of detainees’ and prisoners’ rights. Independent observers have practically no access to criminal trials or sentencing and no way of establishing the conditions in which prisoners are kept. And ex-prisoners who have been released either for health reasons or on completion of their sentence are unwilling to give interviews or tell their stories — on release they are forced to sign a confidentiality agreement and threatened by police officers and prison wardens with re-arrest if they break it.

What scant information about torture and abuse comes out is circulated by Uzbekistan’s few human rights campaigners. We at “Fergana” are marking the appearance of a new special column, “Torture day by day”, in which we will list, as far as this is possible, all firsthand evidence of human rights infringements taking place in our law enforcement and penal system. So, let’s begin.

Akmal’s story: fake “contraband” and a real prison sentence

“Hello. My name is Aziza and I am the sister of Kazakh citizen Akmal Rasulov, a prisoner unjustly convicted in Uzbekistan for ‘illegally moving religious video and audio recordings across a national border”. The audio and video recordings in question had no terrorist, extremist or political content and did not breach the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Please help my brother come home! We saw burns on his legs and feet and are afraid for his life.”

So begins a letter from we received from Kazakhstan three days ago. The prisoner’s sister has given us details of his case, which we publish with her permission. We have also advised her to write to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting an approach to Uzbekistan via diplomatic channels.

The letter continues: “Akmal, a citizen of Kazakhstan with no previous convictions, single, a small business owner and former soldier, resident in the city of Shymkent, was detained at the Gisht Kuprik Customs and Excise Office in Tashkent on 23 March 2016, on the grounds that he had religious audio-visual recordings on his mobile phone. The phone was included in his declaration. The customs officers let his mother go, telling her he would be released after they had examined the phone: instead, he was taken away to an unknown location. On 21 June, Akmal was sentenced to five years in prison for having ‘moved materials promoting religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism across the Customs border with Uzbekistan’.

On 12 October 2016, Uzbekistan’s government declared an amnesty for foreign citizens held in its prisons, but Akmal was not released. His case was tried in his absence – he was not even brought into the courtroom – and his sentence remained in force on the grounds that he had three contraventions of prison regulations on his record. Later, his parents were allowed to visit him, and heard that he knew nothing about a trial or any contraventions of regulations.”   

Aziza went on to say that no materials of a “terrorist or extremist nature, or hostile to the Republic of Uzbekistan” had been found on his phone. He was not a member of any banned organisations or groups, and had no friends or acquaintances in Uzbekistan apart from one aunt.

The young man’s family were concerned that when they visited him they had seen burns on his legs and feet, and deduced that he was being tortured or physically abused.

The case of Andrey Khvan: broken ribs and outdoor work in sub-zero temperatures

We have received information from the Uzbek Human Rights Alliance (PAU) about the case of Andrey Khvan, who was subjected to torture and bullying by staff at Prison Camp No 76. According to Andrey’s mother, Lyudmila Khvan, prison staff broke his ribs during a beating, and after complaints were made they forced him to write a statement saying that he fell down some stairs. Other inmates who witnessed the beating – Sergey Kim, Salavat Aukhatova and Yanis Khusainov – were also punished for the evidence they gave: they were put on a more severe regime and forced to work in the fields in sub zero temperatures.

“Anvar Zhumanov, the head of Prison Camp No 76, forces prisoners to clear fields of dry cotton stalks in frosty weather,” PAU told us a week or two ago.

“And after the rains, when the cotton fields are under water, the inmates’ feet and legs sink into the mud and their footwear fills with mud and water. The prisoners also tell us that they are forced to chop up trees that are brought to the camp’s cattle farm and afterwards driven away, possibly for sale to local residents who don’t have central heating. Prison staff sell the dry cotton stalks to the locals as well. The camp bosses also breed cattle on the farm for their own personal gain, while the inmates just look after the livestock and clear the fields.”  

The Bakhtior case: an endlessly extended sentence 

Gulchash Sadykova, 66, a Tashkent pensioner and mother of four who receives an disability pension, has contacted Uzbekistan’s Independent Human Rights Initiative Group (IGNPU).

Gulchash’s son, Tashkent resident Bakhtior Sadykov, 39, was arrested by the capital’s police on 4 March 2001, tortured and sentenced by Tashkent City Court on 14 August of the same year to 12 years imprisonment in a high security prison camp for “the creation and leadership of, and participation in, religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other types of banned organisations”.

According to IGNPU’s head Surat Ikramov, Sadykov was sent to High Security Prison Camp No 64/51, in the town of Koson in the Qashqadaryo Region, where he was subjected to harsh torture by the prison warders. When Gulchash visited her son on 5 November 2010, she found him thin and sickly, and with marks from beatings on his body and face. Bakhtior told her that on 30 and 31 October a warder by the name of Dilshod and a few of his colleagues had beaten him solidly for two days and then, when he lost consciousness, taken him to the prison sick bay.

On 5 March 2013, when Sadykov had served his sentence, the prison management fabricated a new charge against him under Article 221of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code: “failure to comply with the legitimate demands of the camp administration during his term of imprisonment” and added another three years and 11 months to his sentence. He was then transferred to another high security prison where he was also subjected to beatings and torture.

“When Sadykov’s mother went to visit her son in October 2016, she was told that her son was being temporarily held in solitary confinement and that she should return in December for a two hour visit,” Ikramov tells me. “When, however, she arrived in December she still couldn’t see her son – he was still in solitary (and had been for three months). Bakhtior has only two months of this third sentence left. His mother is in despair: surely they won’t lengthen his sentence yet again? She has appealed to Uzbek president Shafkat Mirziyoev to help her free her son, whose sentence may be extended again at any moment.”

According to Surat Ikramov’s rough calculation, around 13,500 prisoners in Uzbekistan’s jails have been sentenced for religious and political reasons. Since 2006, the country’s government has adopted a policy of extending their sentences, using Criminal Code Article 221 to add between three and six years to the sentences of 300-500 prisoners annually (more than half of them already on their second, third or fourth sentence). Altogether, roughly 4,000 prisoners sentenced on charges connected with religion or politics are serving extended sentences. Since 2005 these “religious” inmates have not been included in amnesties. Only a few are released at the end of their sentences, and most of these are seriously or terminally ill.

Translated from Russian by Liz Barnes 

From the editors: If you or any family member, friend or acquaintance has been a victim of torture, please write to us here. Your letter will always receive a response and may be published. 

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