Murad Djuraev has passed away but will live forever in our hearts

Murad Djuraev
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) expresses its sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of Murad Djuraev after learning that he passed away today.

On 4 December 2017, Murad Djuraev, well known social and political figure and former prisoner of conscience, died suddenly at the age of 65 in the town of Murabek.

His life was a difficult one: he suffered persecution from the Uzbekistani authorities in retaliation for expressing views and having the courage to speak openly about problems in Uzbekistan. As mayor of Mubarek, he supported the opposition Popular Movement of Uzbekistan "Birlik" and its leaders, and in retaliation for this he was imprisoned in 1994 on fabricated charges. In total, he spent 21 years of his life behind bars, serving five consecutive terms on politically motivated sentences. After pressure from the international community, he was released in November 2015 but was already seriously ill.

With great difficulty, he eventually received a passport and, in October this year, was given official permission to travel abroad for treatment.

For the past two years, he was kept under complete surveillance by the National Security Services of Uzbekistan. He was threatened with re-arrest if he spoke to journalists, but he continued to believe that the reforms announced would take place and Uzbekistan would become a country where the observance of human rights would become the norm.

"I believe that only Uzbekistani citizens can contribute to positive change in our country. The main thing is to feel free and not indifferent, and then bars no longer matter” - Murad Juraev told AHRCA in October 2017.

He also dreamed of personally meeting with the activists from AHRCA, Amnesty International, International Partnership of Human Rights, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Norwegian Helsinki Committee and other international organizations and of participating in the next session of the UN Human Rights Council, to say that their participation in the fate of civil society activists in Uzbekistan can contribute to the restoration of justice. And to remind people that there are others currently in detention who need the support of the international community.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has corresponded regularly with Murad Juraev since the association was set up - his death is a terrible loss for us all.

Rest in peace Murad Juraev.


Open Letter of Uzbek NGOs to Global Forum for Assets Recovery

Global Forum for Assets Recovery
The StAR Secretariat
1818 H street NW
Washington DC 20433 USA

CC:  US Department of State; US Department of Justice;
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom  

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Le Mans, France;
Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, Berlin, Germany

December 1, 2017


We, two Uzbek civil society organizations in exile, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, write to the organizers and participants of the 2017 Global Forum for Assets Recovery to express our support to “Civil Society Statement for Global Forum on Asset Recovery” and to call attention to the situation surrounding return of the proceeds of corruption to Uzbekistan, a country that continues to be run by a repressive, kleptocratic regime following the transfer of power following the death of long-time autocrat Islam Karimov.  

Hundreds of millions have been stolen from the Uzbek people by the members of the ruling regime, whose constituent members remain the same despite the ascendancy of new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.  The widespread siphoning off of public funds through bribery and corruption in Uzbekistan has not been the fault of a single public official’s greed or poor leadership, but is rather the product of the systemic and entrenched nature of government corruption in the country, perpetuated by a network of public officials that remains largely unchanged, and indeed, unchallenged.

Return of the proceeds of corruption to the same government without safeguards to prevent their theft once again is against the word and spirit of the UN Convention against Corruption and is against the interests of people of Uzbekistan – the true victims of the corruption committed by country’s ruling elite. Those countries currently holding assets that are the ill-gotten proceeds of corruption in Uzbekistan who are considering repatriation of such assets to Uzbekistan must first consider whether the conditions that allowed for high-level bribery and money laundering in Uzbekistan have fundamentally changed. To date, anti-corruption reforms that would prevent the repeated theft of such assets have not yet been implemented in Uzbekistan. As such, an unconditional return of ill-gotten assets to Uzbekistan (or any requesting state without such reforms) will make the requested countries complicit in continued corruption in the country of origin.

What happened in Uzbekistan?

Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, extorted more than one billion USD in bribes from international telecom companies VimpelCom, TeliaSonera, Mobile Telesystems and others in exchange for local licenses to operate. Karimova received this amount through offshore companies and bank accounts in a number of western European countries. In total, the bribery scandal amounted to approximately 7% of the annual state budget of Uzbekistan and, as such, has brought harm to Uzbek people, depriving them of public services such as education, pension funds, and healthcare they would otherwise have received. 

What made this possible?

The absence of institutional integrity and policy mechanisms to prevent corruption and bribery is a primary reason. Uzbekistan still lacks any regulation on conflict of interests, does not make declarations of income by public officials obligatory, and does not have a transparent and accountable system of public procurement or allocation of state licences. Still today there are no independent anti-corruption bodies; no independent judiciary, and no other institutional safeguards against corruption.

Alongside Uzbekistan’s institutional weakness, a culture of corruption prevailed. Under former president Islam Karimov, high level public officials were instrumental in facilitating the enrichment of the ruling Karimov family and, in exchange, were enabled to enrich themselves. The government of Uzbekistan, was operationalized to serve the interests of ruling elites, rather than the interests of its citizens.

Have any of these conditions changed and has anyone responsible been held to account?

No serious steps have been taken by the government of Uzbekistan under the leadership of new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev toward institutional reforms, with the only exception of a step taken towards liberalization of currency exchange policies. Since the start of Mirziyoyev’s presidency, there have been no demonstrable reforms to tackle corruption, to establish rule of law, and to implement standards of transparency and accountability. 

In fact, the same high-level public officials complicit in the theft of more than one billion USD by Gulnara Karimova’s still occupy top government positions. Mr. Abdulla Aripov, who in his past capacity of Chairperson of the State Telecommunication Agency personally sanctioned the corrupt allocation of telecom licenses, has even been promoted to Prime Minister. At least one additional figure involved in the scheme, Rustam Inoyatov, Chairperson of the National Security Service, remains in his position. No legal proceedings have been initiated to hold these and other public officials to account.

The only individuals who have been charged and sentenced, under an extremely non-transparent process, is Gulnara Karimova herself and a few of her close associates who played exclusively technical roles (as nominal owners of shell companies) in the schemes. The trial and sentencing of Karimova and her associates transpired in violation of internationally acceptable norms of due process. While Karimova and her associates should without doubt be tried for this case, there is ample reason to believe the case against her has been used to substantiate the government of Uzbekistan’s claim for the ill-gotten proceeds of the scheme, and to ensure that the current ruling elite is able to recapture these proceeds.

As a result, there have so far not been any changes in Uzbekistan that would allow the safe return of the assets in question.

If asset holding countries decide to return the proceeds of this corruption back to Uzbekistan unconditionally, the leading members of its administration will recapture more than one billion USD will be taken under control by the same people who helped to steal these assets. That would only perpetuate the cycle of grand corruption in this country.

Why are we writing to the Global Forum on Asset Recovery?

GFAR, in practical terms, is not an official decision-making forum for governments on repatriation of assets, but is the most significant global event for policymakers to come together to discuss such issues. As such, we have chosen to write this open letter to GFAR in the hopes that policymakers will take the abovementioned issues into account.

Here are our recommendations, which are based on the example of Uzbekistan, to the sponsors, facilitators and participants of GFAR:

First: Stolen assets cannot to be returned to countries like Uzbekistan unconditionally. Conditionality is not necessarily against principles of state sovereignty. In the case of Uzbekistan, the government is in violation of both international law and in violation of its own laws, which exist on paper rather than in practice. International law, which prevails in other such cases where, for instance, governments are accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity, should prevail in cases of grand corruption where the government is the primary sponsor and perpetrator of the crime. There should be similar legal and policy provisions for crimes of grand corruption and money laundering stipulated by international law, and adopting conditionality in returning stolen assets to kleptocratic regimes would be a step in this direction.

Second: Asset restitution is an opportunity to challenge the impunity of corrupt ruling elites in countries notorious for grand corruption and systemic human rights violations. The UN Convention against Corruption provides for asset-holding states (countries of transit or destination) to return assets to the countries where they were stolen (country of origin). This provision should not be applied unconditionally. The process of asset return must be conditioned on a legal judgement of a requesting state (the country of origin) for their repatriation. This legal judgement must meet the standards of due process to be accepted by a requested states, a standard impossible to ensure if the requesting state fails to establish and enforce the rule of law.

Third: Requested states should take into account the institutional conditions that enabled the original theft of assets from the country of origin, and whether these conditions have changed. Requested states should also consider whether effective anti-corruption mechanisms have been established, and whether these mechanisms are implemented in practice.

Fourth: The decision to return the assets should also be assessed from the point of view of the norms of international law on human rights. A ruling regime that systematically abuses the human rights of its own population and where torture in custody and prisons is a routine practice cannot be credited to receive and manage stolen assets that are the proceeds of corruption. We hope to be heard by the sponsors, facilitators and participants of GFAR, and we ask that the example of our country be taken into account. 

A few words about ourselves:

The Association for Human Rightsin Central Asia (AHRCA), based in Le Mans, France, was established in 2006 by Uzbek political refugee Nadejda Atayeva and colleagues. Since then, the organization has provided assistance to 1,250 political refugees and victims of human rights abuses from Central Asia. AHRCA promotes their cases pro bono within international mechanisms for human rights. Over the last several years, AHRCA has submitted 40 reports to the EU and 11 reports to UN human rights mechanisms on the human rights situation in Central Asia.  E-mail: ahrca.org@gmail.com; : http://ahrca.org/; address: Centre MBE 140, 16, rue du Docteur Leroy, 72000 Le Mans, France.

The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGFHR), based in Berlin, Germany, was established in 2010 by Uzbek political refugee Umida Niyazova and colleagues. UGFHR specializes in monitoring and advocating for the abolishment of state-orchestrated systems of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, an issue that is fundamentally related to both human rights and corruption. UGFHR also runs the news-website Eltuz.com; Email: umida.niyazova@gmail.com; http://uzbekgermanforum.org/.   

Sincerely Yours,

Nadejda Atayeva, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia

Umida Niyazova, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights


Message to UN review: Systemic reform needed in Uzbekistan to protect fundamental rights

In May 2018 Uzbekistan’s compliance with its international human rights obligations will be assessed during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a state peer review mechanism carried out under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

A submission for this review prepared by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and CIVICUS assesses Uzbekistan’s implementation of its obligations on the rights to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders. It is based on information obtained by AHRCA through its monitoring of developments in Uzbekistan through a network of in-country activists and analyzes of national legislation and practice in regard to fundamental freedoms.

The submission highlights the lack of progress made in fully implementing recommendations received by Uzbekistan during the 2nd UPR cycle in 2013. It particular, we note that although over the last year there have been some improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

Since this submission was completed, there have been further developments in the situation of civic space and CIVICUS, AHRCA and IPHR will summarize these nearer the time of the UPR review, which is scheduled to take place in May 2018.

Download the joint UPR submission on Uzbekistan


Еnd of a long and painful wait: former prisoner finally granted permission to travel abroad

Murad Djuraev,  2017
“ Despite all the years I spent behind bars, when I suffered betrayal, separation from my family, hunger , torture, and when I lost the will to fight ... solidarity proved to be stronger than all the obstacles and trials. As long as there is a human rights movement, there is a chance of saving those who share the idea of ​​living in a fair society. " Murad Djuraev, October 2017

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Amnesty International and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) welcome the news that on 7 October 2017 the Uzbekistani authorities granted permission to travel abroad to former parliamentarian Murad Djuraev, who was convicted for anti state crimes on politically-motivated charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison after an unfair trial in 1995. 

Murad Djuraev was released from prison in November 2015 after completing a 21-year sentence in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions. His original sentence was arbitrarily extended no less than four times because he allegedly violated the prison regime. One of the accusations against him was that he had not peeled carrots in the correct way.

 He requires urgent spinal surgery, but until two days ago had been refused permission to leave the country for treatment in Germany.

In August 2017 President Shavkat Mirziyoev signed a decree abolishing the legal requirement for nationals of Uzbekistan to apply for and obtain permission to travel abroad before leaving the country. The decree will enter into force on 1 January 2019. The use of these so-called exit visas is a practice that has long ago been abolished elsewhere in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

AHRCA, AI and IPHR urge the Uzbekistani authorities to take immediate action to end the practice of arbitrarily denying permission to leave the country to all other former prisoners, including those previously imprisoned on politically motivated grounds, who have been denied the right to travel abroad. In particular:
  • Former newspaper editor, Muhammad Bekjanov, who was released in February 2017 after spending 17 years in prison on politically motivated charges but remains under police supervision. Muhammad Bekjanov has not yet applied for an exit visa to travel abroad for medical treatment, as a local police officer told him that persons under supervision are not allowed to travel abroad. Bekjanov’s wife and children live in the United States and he has not seen his children for 19 years and has never met his grandchildren; and
  • Human rights defender and writer Mamadali Makhmudov who was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 14-year prison sentence handed down on politically-motivated grounds but who has not yet been granted an exit visa, for which he has repeatedly applied, since June 2016 and has therefore not been able to leave the country for medical treatment. Mamadali Makhmudov has heart, stomach (ulcer) and kidney (stones) problems and needs a pacemaker fitted.
Other individuals not in detention, who criticize or who are perceived to criticize the Uzbekistani authorities, have also been arbitrarily denied permission to leave Uzbekistan. For example, the artist Vyacheslav Akhunov has not obtained permission to travel abroad, despite repeated appeals since 2012.  He was first refused an exit visa in January 2012 after criticizing Gulnara Karimova, daughter of late President Islam Karimov, on the website of the independent Fergana news agency. 


Independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev arrested as OSCE prepares to discuss media freedom in Tashkent

The Civic Solidarity Platform
On 18-19 October 2017 Tashkent will host the Central Asian Media Conference organized by the Office of the Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Freedom of the Media.
It is in this context that we, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, and the other undersigned organizations express our concern for the safety of Uzbekistani journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev who was arrested on 27 September 2017 by officers of the National Security Services. We call for his immediate release and investigations into apparently unlawful arrest, and incommunicado detention.
An independent journalist and well known sports reporter and football commentator, Bobomurod Abdullayev previously also participated as an independent expert in discussions on “Ozodlik”, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He set up the media rights organization “OZOD OVOZ / Free Voice”, and worked as correspondent for Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and Internews International.
On 27 September 2017 Bobomurod Abdullayev was seized by law enforcement officers as he left his house in Tashkent at about 13;30 pm. He was held in custody without contact with the outside world  and only on 29 September did his relatives learn he was being held in Yunusabad district police station  in Tashkent. According to his wife, he is formally being detained on suspicion of theft, although observers believe the detention is politically-motivated. Recently Bobomurod Abdullayev had told relatives he believed he was being followed. Reportedly, the investigation is being conducted by the Investigation Department of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, whose officers searched Bobomurod Abdullayev’s house on 29 September for over five hours and confiscated books, a computer and other media equipment.
On 29 September Bobomurod Abdullayev‘s family contacted an independent defence lawyer and on 1 October, his wife was able to visit him briefly in detention. However, on 1 October the family informed the lawyer that they do not require legal representation. This indicates that the family may be coming under pressure from the authorities.
Also on 1 October Yunusabad district Court was due to hear the case for remand in custody of Bobomurod Abdullayev but his relatives were unable to find out if this had taken place or not.
Since he came to power in September last year, Uzbekistan’s current President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken steps to show the international community that he intends to implement much needed reforms in Uzbekistan. However, incidents such as this one clearly demonstrate that much remains to be done to end systemic repression of free speech and civic space in Uzbekistan. The detention of Bobomurod Abdullayev shows that there are as yet no convincing signs of an end to the long-standing pattern of persecution of journalists and human rights defenders in Uzbekistan.
The undersigned organizations call on the Uzbekistani authorities to immediately release Bobomurad Abdullayev and respect his fundamental rights to freedom of expression, as well as his rights to a defence lawyer of his choice and to ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Signed by the following NGOs:
  1. Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
  2. Austrian Helsinki Association
  3. Bir Duino
  4. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  5. Committee against Torture
  6. Centre de la protection internationale
  7. Center for Civil Liberties Ukraine
  8. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
  9. Center for Participation and Development
  10. Crude Accountability
  11. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor
  12. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Poland
  13. Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
  14. Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (Belarus)
  15. Humanrights.ch
  16. Information Agency Fergana.ru
  17. IDP Women Association “Consent”
  18. International Partnership for Human Rights
  19. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rue of Law
  20. Legal policy research center
  21. Moscow Helsinki Group
  22. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
  23. “Protection of rights without borders”, Armenia
  24. Public Association “Dignity “ supports
  25. Public Verdict
  26. Women of the Don
  27. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights
  28. Helsinki Committee of Armenia


A freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev arrested in Uzbekistan

Bobomurod Abdullaev
On 27 September 2017, at approximately 13.30 in Tashkent, a journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev left his house but did not come back. Two days later, his family learnt that he was in custody in the pre-trial detention facility of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan.

In the afternoon of 29 September officers of the Security Services conducted a search, which lasted six hours, in the house where Bobomud Abdullaev lived with his family. The processor, books, disks and flash cards were seized. There is no information yet about the state of Bobomurod Abdullaev. A lawyer has not been allowed yet to see him.

Bobomurod ABDULLAEV was born in 1973. He has higher education. Mr. Abdullaev is a freelance journalist, he has been commenting on football competitions as a sports observer for many years; He participates as an independent expert in radio discussions of Ozodlik – the Uzbek language service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Mr. Abdullaev is the founder and was the leader of the project Ozod Ovoz – Free Voice. As an IWPR correspondent, he also participated in media projects of Internews International. Mr. Abdullaev started his journalistic career as the Editor in Chief of the Methodology Department of the Central Bank of the Republic of Uzbekistan and worked at the press service of the ASAKA Bank in Tashkent.

According to the preliminary version of the investigation, he was suspected of stealing. It is possible that this is a formal reason for his arrest, because, shortly before being arrested, he noticed that his was under surveillance.

On 1 October a court hearing was scheduled at the Yunusabad District Criminal Court to extend his preliminary detention. Neither his defence lawyer nor his family were able to find out whether this hearing took place or not.

We regard the arrest of Bobomurod Abdullayev, on the eve of the Central Asian Media Conference on the issues of the media freedom,organised by the Representative Office of the Organisation for Security andCooperation in Europe (OSCE), as a clear signal that the Uzbek authorities are not prepared to have a dialogue with civil society.

We urge the government of Uzbekistan to immediately release the freelance journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev, respect his right to express his opinion freely and unhindered, have access to a defence lawyer of his choice and ensure that his trial is public, as well as granting access to his lawyer and relatives.


OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Torture and ill-treatment in Central Asia (Working Session 12,
Rule of Law I, 19 September 2017)

The Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA, Uzbekistan, established by political emigres in France), the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR, Turkmenistan, based in exile in Austria) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) deplore the fact that law enforcement officers in Central Asia continue to use torture and other ill-treatment including electric shocks, suffocation, rape and beatings. The organizations are calling on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to prevent torture, punish the perpetrators and provide reparation including fair and adequate compensation to the victims.

Positive measures

The authorities of the Central Asian countries have taken some positive steps in recent years and pledged to make further progress on combatting torture and ill-treatment. For example, improved legislation on safeguards against torture in detention was adopted in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in January 2015 and May 2016 respectively, and in February 2017 the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan presented its strategy entitled “Towards a Society without Torture” with comprehensive measures including independent investigation of all cases of torture. In Kyrgyzstan the Coordinating Council for Human Rights under the Government developed a draft Action Plan for the implementation of the principles of the Istanbul Protocol for 2017-2020, which aims to improve investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment. In 2012 Turkmenistan included an Article on “torture“ in its Criminal Code with a definition that is in line with that contained in the Convention against Torture, and legal provisions were introduced for independent medical examinations of prisoners. In the last year amendments to the Law on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan unequivocally forbid law enforcement officials to use torture or ill-treatment, and legislation was to adopted to introduce video and audio recording of interrogations of criminal suspects by 2018.

However, some of these measures have yet to be implemented in practice and other major challenges remain.

Torture and ill-treatment continue to be widely used

Torture and other forms of ill-treatment still constitute a serious problem in Central Asia. In 2016 and the first half of 2017 the NGO coalitions against torture registered 163 / 1111 new cases of torture or ill-treatment in Kazakhstan, 112 / 75 cases in Kyrgyzstan, and 57 / 33 cases in Tajikistan. These figures only represent the tip of the iceberg as many victims of torture refrain from lodging complaints for fear of reprisals or because they have lost hope of attaining justice. Given the closed nature of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan it is difficult to establish estimates of incidents of torture and ill-treatment, but results from a survey conducted by the NGO Turkmen International Lawyers’ Association in 2016 indicate that 90 percent of people detained by law enforcement bodies are subjected to psychological or physical pressure. In Uzbekistan torture continues to be routinely used in places of deprivation of liberty run by the National Security Service, as evidenced by the numerous statements of victims and former prisoners received by AHRCA over the past year.


On 19 June 2015 Yusuf Mamed-ogly Pirigam was arrested on drug-related charges and alleges that in Chuy district police station in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, police officers beat him and put a plastic bag over his head to force him to “confess“. He lost consciousness and during the night he was taken to hospital by ambulance. The doctor on duty reportedly found that Pirigam had two fractured ribs. On 2 July 2015 he lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office of Chuy district, but prosecutors decided that no investigation was needed. Since then the case has been opened and closed several times, but investigations have not been conducted effectively; in 2017 the case was transferred for investigation to the State Committee for National Security.

On 29 August 2015 law enforcement officials of the town of Vakhdat, near Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, arrested 35-year-old Umar Babazhanov. At the police station they beat him repeatedly as he was lying on the floor of a corridor and as a result he lost consciousness and was taken to hospital. Umar Babazhanov never regained consciousness and died on 9 September 2015. A forensic examination concluded that he had died from a traumatic brain injury. Since 2015 the procurator’s office in Vakhdat has closed the investigation into the case several times and the Prosecutor General’s Office has repeatedly referred it back to Vakhdat to resume investigating. Most recently, the Vakhdat prosecutor’s office closed the case in June 2017. The lawyer acting for Umar Babazhanov has repeatedly lodged complaints with the Prosecutor General’s office, the human rights Ombudsman and the President complaining about the lack of effectiveness of the investigation; obstruction of access to case materials; and failure to question witnesses.

After the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkmenistani authorities began a severe crackdown on individuals accused of being associated with the Hizmet movement and its leader, Fethullah Gülen, who has been accused of masterminding the coup attempt in Turkey. To our knowledge, over 150 people were detained in Turkmenistan in September/October 2016 and April/May 2017, as part of the anti-Gülen crackdown. Eighteen of them, detained in September/October last year, were handed down prison sentences ranging from 12 to 25 years after a closed, two-hour trial in February 2017, which did not meet international fair trial standards. There are credible allegations that they were held incommunicado during pre-trial detention and that they were being held naked in darkened rooms for long periods and beaten. Unconfirmed reports claim that another man, arrested at the same time, died in custody as a result of torture.

In Uzbekistan, a former prisoner who was released from detention in July 2016, told AHRCA on condition of anonymity that his former cell-mates reported that “even the guards in prison colonies beat prisoners. Prisoners are tortured in order to force them to cooperate with the National Security Services, to get them to testify against people that they don’t even know [...] they are just shown a photo and told a name and told to write out a text dictated to them. This practice is particularly used in relation to detainees who have returned to Uzbekistan from abroad“.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

In all five countries, victims of torture and ill-treatment face serious disincentives to lodging complaints. Kazakhstani law enforcement and prison officials attempt to obstruct the registration of torture complaints by warning victims that they will be held criminally responsible if they provide false information. In Kyrgyzstan, officials of the Prosecutor General’s office have stated their intent to initiate criminal proceedings against victims of torture who withdraw their complaints or refuse to press charges against alleged perpetrators. Across Central Asia protection programmes for those who complain about torture and for witnesses do not function effectively and many refrain from reporting such crimes for fear of reprisals or withdraw complaints after law enforcement officers subject them to or threaten them with further abuse.

Another obstacle for victims in their struggle for justice is the authorities’ failure to ensure that investigations are conducted promptly, thoroughly, impartially and independently. None of the five countries has yet put in place independent mechanisms to receive and investigate complaints, despite recommendations to this effect issued to each of them by the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture in recent years. While steps have been taken particularly in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to make investigations of torture more effective by strengthening the role of prosecutors, police officers still carry out the actual investigative activities in many cases. In Kyrgyzstan investigative activities into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are carried out by agents of the State Committee for National Security, an agency that lacks transparency, has close ties with law enforcement agencies, and is itself often implicated in torturing and ill-treating detainees. Even when investigations are conducted exclusively by prosecutors, this does not ensure the effectiveness of the investigation. Prosecutors in Central Asia have an inherent conflict of interest originating from their roles of both taking forward the criminal prosecution and supervising the legality of the investigative process.

Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have introduced articles on “torture“ into their criminal codes with definitions of this crime that are in line with the UN Convention against Torture. We call on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to follow their example. However, impunity for torture and ill-treatment remains a challenge across the region. Central Asian human rights organizations ‘monitoring work reveals that most perpetrators are not brought to justice. The authorities of all Central Asian states fail to publish comprehensive statistics on complaints, criminal cases, convictions and means of redress relating to torture and other ill-treatment covering all relevant articles of the respective criminal codes. In those countries where some official figures are publicly available they reveal large discrepancies between the number of complaints lodged and the investigations subsequently opened; and the number of guilty verdicts handed down is typically very low. For example, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyrgyzstan, 435 complaints were received in 2016; only 35 criminal cases were opened, and only 20 cases reached the courts. Tajikistan has published statistics of all the cases opened for “torture“ under Article 143-1 since its introduction into the Criminal Code in April 2012. Only nine criminal cases were initiated; one perpetrator was given a suspended sentence and three were sentenced to between one and seven years’ imprisonment. According to the authorities of Turkmenistan, not a single criminal case has been brought in this country since Article 182 on “torture“ was introduced in August 2012.

Access of victims of torture or their bereaved families to reparation is very limited in Central Asia: in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan NGOs are aware of six cases in each of the two countries where compensation has been awarded for moral damages sustained through torture. These are positive steps and the other countries should make progress in this direction too. At the same time, more has to be done to ensure that the amounts awarded are fair and adequate. Domestic law in all five countries does not provide for the right to rehabilitation services for victims of torture or their bereaved families, and NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have used their own funds to try to ensure that these needs are met. Other forms of reparation such as measures of satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition are not available in any of the Central Asian countries.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and set up national preventive mechanisms (NPMs), which began visiting places of deprivation of liberty in 2014. Both NPMs have proved themselves to be important safeguards against torture, although Kazakhstan’s NPM requires further improvements including being able to function with full independence. Tajikistan should build on the experience of the Monitoring Group established under the Ombudsman’s Office, which has conducted limited monitoring of places of deprivation of liberty since February 2014, ratify OPCAT and set up its own NPM. There is no independent oversight of detention facilities and prisons in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, and independent international human rights monitors continue to be denied access to Turkmenistan.

Recommendations to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan:

The human rights groups jointly issuing this statement are calling on the authorities of the five Central Asian states to implement the following recommendations as a matter of urgency:

• Legislate that detainees under any form of detention are given access to all fundamental legal safeguards in detention and at the time of arrest , consistently implement these provisions in practice and bring to justice anybody who fails to provide or obstructs access to these safeguards.

• Compile and publish comprehensive statistics on cases of law enforcement agents and other officials accused of, charged with and punished for failing to implement these legal safeguards. Detail the types of punishments handed down.

• Ensure that complainants and witnesses are protected against reprisals as soon as the authorities receive the complaint/witness report and that appropriate disciplinary or criminal measures are imposed against perpetrators for such actions.

• Put in place accountable mechanisms tasked with receiving complaints and conducting prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.

• Bring to justice all perpetrators of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan: Bring the definition of torture contained in the countries’ criminal codes in line with the definition included in the Convention against Torture.

• Put in place a unified system to register cases involving torture and other forms of ill-treatment and compile comprehensive statistics disaggregated by sex, age and, where applicable, charges brought, on complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions and means of redress. Ensure that not only cases under the article entitled “torture” of the criminal code are included, but all cases involving allegations of torture or other forms of ill-treatment such as those opened under charges of “abuse of authority” and “exceeding official authority”.

• Ensure that victims of torture or their bereaved families have access to all forms of reparation, including fair and adequate compensation from the state budget, free rehabilitation, measures of satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

Kazakhstan: Ensure the full independence of the country’s National Preventive Mechanism.

Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan: Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and set up an independent, competent and fully resourced National Preventive Mechanism.

• Fully implement all recommendations issued to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan by relevant UN treaty bodies and procedures.