02.07-12-AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Concerns in Europe and
Central Asia
July – December 2002

UZBEKISTAN

 

Human rights defenders

 

Human rights defenders continued to face harassment, intimidation, forcible psychiatric confinement and imprisonment.

 

Two women, Larisa Vdovina and human rights defender Elena Urlaeva, were forcibly confined in a psychiatric hospital at the end of August. The two were detained on 27 August during a demonstration protesting alleged government human rights abuses outside the Ministry of Justice building. The next day they were transferred to Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital. Elena Urlaeva was released on 30 December. However, a court case to consider her mental state remained pending. AI believes that the two were targeted because of their human rights activities.

Zhakhangir Shosalimov, a member of the registered Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (NOPCHU) and a market-trader, was kept in administrative detention for 15 days after he had been detained at “Charsu” market in Tashkent on 4 September. He was accused of having incited market-traders to stage a protest against tax increases that affected their business; that day some 50 to 60 traders gathered in the market for a protest which reportedly turned violent. According to NOPCHU, Zhakhangir Shosalimov did not take part in the protest. There were strong indications that Zhakhangir Shosalimov was punished for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and that he was targeted for his activities as a human rights defender. Following his arrest, he was kept incommunicado for two days. NOPCHU reported that police at Shaykhantaursky district police in Tashkent threatened him with ill-treatment. One police officer reportedly threatened him to “slip a plastic bag over his head”, a torture method frequently used by police in Uzbekistan, to restrict breathing.

On 17 September Yunusabad district court in Tashkent sentenced Yuldash

Rasulov, who worked with the unregistered Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (OPCHU), to seven years’ imprisonment in a strict regime colony, after convicting him of “religious extremism” and membership of the banned Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He had been arrested on 24 May in his home town of Karshi in Kashkadarya region and transferred to a solitary confinement cell in the basement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tashkent the next day. The investigator had allegedly typed a ‘confession’ and forced him to sign it. There were strong indications that Yuldash Rasulov was imprisoned to punish him for his work with OPCHU, which included gathering information on arrests and the imprisonment of members and alleged members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and of independent Islamist congregations in Karshi. (For background information on this case, see EUR 01/007/2002).

Dzhura Muradov (aged 37), chairman of Nishansky district branch of OPCHU in Kashkadarya region in southern Uzbekistan, as well as two members of the branch, Musulmonkul Khamraev and Norpulat Radzhapov (both aged 26), were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to six years’ by Nishansky district court on 16 September. The three were convicted on criminal charges, including “hooliganism” and “robbery”. The defendants were reportedly detained one day before they were going to attend a meeting of the banned secular opposition movement Birlik, and convicted the following day. The trial reportedly failed to meet international fair trial standards. The lawyers of the men were not present at the court hearing. According to OPCHU, the three men were punished for their human rights activities and their criticism of local officials, whom they accused of embezzlement and corruption.

Tursinbay Utamuratov, chair of OPCHU’s branch in Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, was arrested on 4 September, accused of tax fraud. On 30 November he was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment by Khodzhayly district court in Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic. According to OPCHU, Tursinbay Utamuratov was targeted to punish him for his human rights activities and his public criticism of local authorities.

 

Religious minorities

 

Religious minority groups continued to be targets of harassment and persecution by the authorities. Marat Mudarisov, for example, a 26-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, was summoned to the National Security Service of Akmal Ikramovsky district of Tashkent in July. The officers confiscated religious literature he had on him, which they deemed illegal and inflaming religious and ethnic hatred. According to Marat Mudarisov’s lawyer, the literature found on his client was sent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization from abroad using only official channels. When Marat Mudarisov refused to write a ‘confession’ and an undertaking that he would not hold religious meetings in the future, a police officer reportedly beat him and put a gas mask over his head, squeezing tight the air supply. When he continued to refuse to ‘confess’, the policeman forced his mother to write a report about her son’s religious activities, which she said was dictated to her. The indictment issued in September stated that “the dissemination of all types of printed material… that propagates the faith of the organization ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ as the only true religion among other religious faiths is illegal”. Marat Mudarisov was convicted under Article 156 part 1 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan – “inciting national, racial or religious hatred” – to a suspended sentence of three years’ imprisonment by Akmal Ikramovsky district court on 29 November. An appeal lodged by Marat Mudarisov’s lawyer following the trial was still pending at the end of the period under review. AI believed that the charges were brought solely to punish Marat Mudarisov for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of conscience and expression.

 

Political prisoners

 

Trials of political prisoners continued and supporters and alleged supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and members of independent Islamist congregations and their families continued to face imprisonment, detention and intimidation.

 

On 28 November Tashkent city court handed down a death sentence on Iskandar Khudoberganov and sentenced Bekzod Kasymbekov, Nosirkhon Khakimov and three further co-defendants to prison terms of between six and 16 years. The men had been put on trial on 26 August on anti-state charges, including “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “setting up an illegal group”. Iskandar Khudoberganov was additionally charged with “terrorism” and “premeditated, aggravated murder”, and accused of having trained in military camps in Chechnya and Tajikistan with the aim of overthrowing the Uzbek government by violent means. The trial was believed to be grossly unfair. Iskandar Khudoberganov’s lawyers, for example, were denied access to him for at least two months. There were strong indications that the convictions were largely based on evidence extracted under torture. Although Iskandar Khudoberganov, Bekzod Kasymbekov and Nosirkhon Khakimov stated in court that they were tortured, no investigation into the allegations was opened. In a letter passed on to his family at the end of September Iskandar Khudoberganov wrote: ”In the basement of the Interior Ministry … they tied my hands from behind, hit me with truncheons and chairs and kicked me on the kidneys. They hit my head against the wall until it was bleeding. They didn’t let me sleep. For weeks they didn’t give me food to force me to confess. They said: ‘think of your relatives, your mother, your wife, your sister; think of their honour. We’ll bring them here and rape them in front of your eyes.’ Only then I gave in and signed what they wanted me to sign.» The families of some of the defendants reported they had suffered torture, threats of torture and rape, and harassment to force them to incriminate their relatives. The court hearing had been suspended at the end of September following a request by the procurator that a psychiatric examination of Iskandar Khudoberganov and Bekzod Kasymbekov be conducted. The examination was not aimed at investigating the torture allegations, but to establish whether the defendants were of sound mind at the time of the alleged crime. Iskandar Khudoberganov spent three weeks in Tashkent Psychiatric Hospital, and Bekzod Kasymbekov was kept for around two weeks in the same hospital. One of the doctors at the hospital allegedly told Iskandar Khudoberganov’s family that he was very weak and needed medical treatment; he was psychologically unstable and showed signs of developing schizophrenia. Another member of staff reportedly told the family that the National Security Service (SNB) would draw up the examination report and the doctors would have no say in the matter. At the court hearing on 19 November it was announced that Iskandar Khudoberganov and Bekzod Kasymbekov were of sound mind, that they were not psychologically unstable and were in good health.

 

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on torture

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture who visited Uzbekistan from 24 November to 6 December inspected a number of facilities of forcible confinement in different parts of the country, including Tashkent Psychiatric Hospital, detention facilities at the Ministry of the Interior in Tashkent, the prison in the town of Andijan, and detention facilities of the SNB in the Ferghana valley. However, the Rapporteur was denied access to the detention facility of the SNB in Tashkent and expressed concern that he was prevented from visiting Jaslyk prison colony in Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic “in a satisfactory and comprehensive manner”. At the end of his visit he declared that torture was “systematic” in Uzbekistan and that “many confessions obtained through torture and other illegal means were then used as evidence in trials, [including] in trials that are leading to the death penalty or to very severe punishment”.

 

Torture and deaths in custody

 

There were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment in pre-trial detention and places of imprisonment as well as allegations that many such reports were not promptly and impartially investigated. At least three men died in custody in suspicious circumstances in the period under review. For example, the bodies of Muzafar Avazov, a 35-year-old father of four, and Khusniddin Alimov, aged 34, were brought from Jaslyk prison in the Northern Karakalpakstan region to their families in Tashkent on 8 August. Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Muzafar Avazov’s corpse showed signs of burns on the legs, buttocks, lower back and arms. Reportedly, there was a large wound on the back of the head, bruises on the forehead, and the hands had no fingernails. The authorities reportedly restricted viewing of Khusniddin Alimov’s body and warned his relatives not to talk to journalists.

 

Death penalty

 

AI learnt of at least 22 death sentences and 11 executions in 2002. However, the organization believes that the real figures are much higher. Despite Uzbekistan’s commitment under Article 17.8 of the 1990 Copenhagen Document which obliges participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to “make available to the public information regarding the use of the death penalty” ([1]), the authorities continued to treat information about the practice of the death penalty as a state secret and again failed to publish comprehensive statistics on this issue. AI learnt of eight cases where death row prisoners were granted clemency or the death sentence was commuted to long-term imprisonment in 2002 ([2]). Refat Tulyaganov and Maksim Strakhov were executed in January and May respectively despite interventions by the UN Human Rights Committee urging the Uzbek authorities to stay the executions.

 

Death sentences

 

Among the death sentences that came to light was that passed on Azamat Uteev, a 21-year-old man who was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan on murder charges on 28 June; he was accused of killing a 15-year old girl. On 6 August the Appeals Board of the Supreme Court of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan turned down an appeal against his death sentence. Tamara Chikunova, chair of the human rights organization Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture in Uzbekistan, told AI: “[Azamat Uteev] was tortured by officers of the police and the procuracy in the town of Nukus. They put a gas mask on his face, but squeezed the air supply in order to stem the flow of oxygen. They also took him to the salt lakes in the desert area near Nukus where they forced his head under water several times so that he swallowed a lot of the salty water. He said it felt as if the salt was burning him from inside. In order to escape further torture he told them what they wanted to hear.» Azamat Uteev reportedly retracted his ‘confession’ at the beginning of the court hearing, stating that he was tortured to force him to ‘confess’. However, the court reportedly ignored his statement and did not open an investigation into the allegations.

 

This country entry has been extracted from a forthcoming Amnesty International report, CONCERNS IN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA: July – December 2002 (AI Index: EUR 01/002/2003), to be issued in March 2003. Anyone wishing further information on other Amnesty International concerns in Europe and Central Asia should consult the full document.

 

 

[1]  Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, 29 June 1990, Paragraphs 17.7 and 17.8.

[2]  The death sentences of the following men were known to have been commuted in 2002: Vazgen Arutyunyants, Armen Garushyants, Nikolay Ganiyev, Aleksander Kornetov, Valery Agabekov, Andrey Annenkov, Sherzod Khashimov and one other man  (name not known) whose sentence was reportedly commuted on 23 April by Ferghana Regional Court.

Javob berish

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