International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June: Detainees in Central Asia frequently subjected to electric shock, suffocation, rape and beatings

Central Asian and international human rights groups call on governments in the region to honour today’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by pledging to end torture and bring justice to the victims. Concrete steps should include ensuring detainees’ access to a lawyer of their choice promptly after apprehension, setting up independent mechanisms to investigate torture complaints and – for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – to issue standing invitations to United Nations (UN) Special Procedures including the Special Rapporteur on torture.

In Central Asia victims of torture are often afraid to lodge complaints for fear of reprisals and not all dare to seek help from human rights groups. Since the beginning of 2015, the NGO coalitions against torture in KazakhstanKyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have registered 45, 98 and 20 new cases of torture and other ill-treatment, respectively. Some of these cases relate to several individuals claiming to have been tortured. The absence of any level of effective public control or monitoring renders it extremely difficult to accurately assess the extent of the problem in Uzbekistan.  However, numerous reports from ex-detainees, detainees and their families indicate that torture and ill-treatment remain an integral part of the criminal justice system. From 2011 to May 2015, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia received over 154 allegations of torture and ill-treatment during investigation and detention from Uzbekistan. Due to the repressive nature of the regime, no independent human rights groups are able to operate in Turkmenistan and it is impossible to comprehensively study the situation of torture. The authorities persistently deny that torture exists in the country and, to our knowledge, no one has yet been charged under the Article of “torture“ that was added to the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan in 2012. Nevertheless, activists in exile have received credible allegations relating to individual cases from pre- and post-trial facilities on a regular basis. 

Read the full statement issued by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (France), the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium), the NGO Coalition against Torture in Tajikistan, the NGO Coalition against Torture in Kyrgyzstan, the NGO Coalition against Torture in Kazakhstanthe Norwegian Helsinki CommitteeTurkmen Initiative for Human Rights and Turkmenistan's Independent Lawyers Association.


A member of Group 24 of Tajikistan Shabnam Khudoydodova arrested in Belarus

An activist of the Group 24 put on Interpol wanted list by Tajikistan is under threat of extradition

On 15 June 2015, while crossing the Russian-Belarusian border, a citizen of Tajikistan Shabnam Hudoydodova was arrested.
Shabnam Hudoydodova

Shabnam Khayrulloevna KHUDOYDODOVA was born on 20 December 1986 in the city of Kulyab of the Tajikistan SSR. She has an underage daughter.

In social networks, she actively supported the critical opinions of the political opposition of Tajikistan, she emphasised the need for democratic reforms in her home country. Whenever she could, Ms Hudoydodova participated in humanitarian rallies in support of Tajik migrant workers.

Since the day of her arrest, Ms Hudoydodova is held in the pre-trial investigations prison of Brest. She was detained at the request of Tajikistan, because she is charged under Article 37 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan (Criminal Liability of Accomplices).

Shabnam Hudoydodova has become a wanted person since expulsion of the leader and founder of the organisation "Youth of Tajikistan for the revival of Tajikistan", a member of the leadership of the opposition coalition "New Tajikistan", which includes the "Group 24" Maksud Ibrahimov from Russia. On 20 January, he disappeared in Moscow and soon it transpired that he was in Tajikistan. There is still little known about his location. In January 2015, Shabnam Hudoydodova’s house was searched, her mother and all those with whom she maintained contact in Tajikistan were questioned

In recent years, Shabnam Hudoydodova lived in Russia. She recently learned that her abduction in Russia was being prepared. These fears are justified: in the last year supporters of the "Group 24" were repeatedly abducted, Umarali Kuvatov, the leader of the organisation was shot dead in Istanbul on behest of the Tajik security services.

In October 2014 Tajikistan declared the "Group 24" an "extremist" organisation. In many ways, this is a politically motivated persecution of opponents of the regime for their views.

On 12 June 2015, Ms Hudoydodova left for Belarus, to apply at the representative office of the UNHCR for a refugee status.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) expresses its concern about the threat of a forced return of Shabnam Hudoydodova to Tajikistan. For open expression of her views in social networks, she is at risk of torture and imprisonment for up to 20 years in Tajikistan. We call on:
         — The representative Office of UNHCR in Belarus to visit Shabnam Hudoydodova urgently and consider her application in accordance with the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

         —  The Government of Belarus to comply with provisions of Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture prohibiting the expulsion of a refugee to a country where she is at risk of torture.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has informed the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and international human rights organisations.

Our previous publications on this topic:
                     — press release "Turkey: Leader of the Tajik opposition Umarali Kuvatov murdered in Istanbul" dated 5 March 2015;
                     — press release "Arrests of the Tajik activists. In Moscow, Maksud Ibragimov is missing" dated 26 January 2015;
                     — press release "Turkey: the leader of «Group 24» Umarali Kuvatov faces a threat of extradition" dated 13 January 2015;
                     — press release "Turkey: the leader of «Goup 24» Umarali Kuvatov is detained" dated 20 December 2014;
                     — press release "Russia: an attempt on the life of a member of the Tajik opposition Maksud Ibragimov" dated 1 December 2014.


UZBEKISTAN - Muhammad Bekjanov, journalist held for 16 years must be freed at once

As Uzbekistan prepares to receive a visit from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon on 12 June, Reporters Without Borders and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia call on the authorities to immediately release Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest held journalists.

Awarded the Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize in 2013, Bekjanov used to edit Uzbekistan’s main opposition newspaper. Married, the father of three children and now aged 60, he has been held for the past 16 years.

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to start a debate on such taboo subjects as the state the economy, the use of forced labour for the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. As result, he became one of the leading bugbears of President Islam Karimov, who was then forging the authoritarian regime he still leads.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence his critics. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried as an accomplice and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His sentence was reduced in 2003 but in January 2012, just a few days before he was due to be released, he was sentenced to another four years and eight months in jail on a charge of disobeying prison officials under article 221 of the criminal code.

Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a fellow Erk journalist who was arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, is also still being held.

Prevented from seeing his lawyer

The authorities are currently preventing Bekjanov from seeing his lawyer, Polina Braunerg. When Braunerg went to the prison with a permit to see him on 29 April, she was told that he was on a National Security Service “blacklist” and that no information could be provided about him.

I waited to see my client for more than five hours in 38-degree Celsius heat without anyone trying to explain to me where he was,” she said.

Reporters Without Borders and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia are extremely concerned about this latest display of contempt for Bekjanov’s rights.

Muhammad Bekjanov must be given access to medical and legal assistance as a matter of urgency,” said Nadezhda Atayeva, the head of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The prison conditions have had a grave affect on his health and we fear they could be fatal.”

Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, added: “Nearly 16 years after his initial conviction, it is unacceptable that neither Bekjanov, his family or his lawyer have been given copies of the court decisions that have been taken in his case.”

Bekjanov is being held hostage by the regime. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against Karimov in the December 1991 presidential election. Officially, he got less than 13 percent of the votes although independent observers thought he had won. Violence was used to crush pro-Salikh student demonstrations and opposition newspapers were quickly closed down.

Tortured, denied medical attention

Bekjanov has been repeatedly tortured since his arrest. During the initial investigation, he was beaten all over his body, including the head and ribs, until he lost consciousness. One of his legs was broken during a beating in 2003 but he was denied any medical treatment. He has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of the torture and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time.

When his wife, Nina Bekjanova, visited him in 2014, she noticed that he was suffering from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks. His general condition is one of extreme physical and mental exhaustion.

At least eight other journalists are currently detained in connection with their work in Uzbekistan. Many government opponents, human rights defenders and other civil society activists also languish in prison, as do thousands of individuals who are arbitrarily accused of “religious extremism.”

The prolonged detention of political prisoners under article 221 of the criminal code is widespread. False testimony is used to convict them, in flagrant violation of their right to due process. Sentences are often extended several times in succession in a manner that is tantamount to life imprisonment.

Reporters Without Borders and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia are sending a copy of this press release to the UN special rapporteur on torture and to the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

See our previous press releases on this subject:


5 year since the tragic events took place in the South of Kyrgyzstan

Fairness is the way to reconciliation 

The tragic events in southern Kyrgyzstan that took place in June 2010 resulted in many casualties, including murder, rape and numerous violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, which in turn led to mass emigration.

The UNHCR estimates that due to the ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, 300 thousand people were displaced, of whom 169,500 have not returned to their homes. Thousands of people were forced to leave Kyrgyzstan permanently. Since 11 June 2010, ethnic Uzbek residents of southern Kyrgyzstan have been leaving the country. Ethnic Kyrgyz residents who do not support the nationalists have been leaving too.

According our organisation’s observations, the majority of victims who left for another country never received international protection. Those who moved to Russia turned into migrant workers; many of them are wanted by Kyrgyz authorities for alleged involvement in the riots (in June 2010). In addition, those who moved to countries outside the CIS do not always find international protection, they are often afraid to give their real names for fear of disclosure of their location and causing problems for their families living in Kyrgyzstan. A large group of ethnic Uzbeks are forced to live in the territory of Uzbekistan illegally, but under a total control of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan. There is a high risk of their mass expulsion to Kyrgyzstan, contrary to Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture.

Since June 2010, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia  - AHRCA has received more than 3,000 reports of numerous cases of violations of human rights from the residents of southern Kyrgyzstan: torture, fabrication of accusations of ethnic discrimination, violation of property rights and the absence of effective remedies.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia  - AHRCA calls on countries which took in the victims of ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan to:
  • stop the enforcement of the deportation of ethnic Uzbek, Kyrgyzstan national, asylum seekers;
  • review the application of ethnic Uzbeks in respect of whom a decision to deport was made;
  • provide access to legal aid for refugees from Southern Kyrgyzstan and create conditions for their legalisation;
  • provide humanitarian aid, if necessary, including the right to education of minors and health care. 
Association Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA urges the government of Kyrgyzstan to implement consistently the recommendations of the Independent International Commission for Inquiry into the events of Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, the International Crisis Group, which said that the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is extremely difficult.

In southern Kyrgyzstan, ethnic Uzbeks continue to experience fear. It is amplified due to lack of protection of Uzbeks from a repetition of the tragedy. They have a right to international protection, including by UNHCR.


Ten Years Andijan tragedy

Uzbekistan: 10 years of impunity for the massacre in Andijan

I fled Uzbekistan in 2000, five years before the Andijan massacre, when government forces opened fire on civilian protests against the country’s repressive regime and failed economic policies. The vast majority of protesters were unarmed, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men, women and children were killed as they tried to flee.

Today, it is ten years since the massacre, one of the most savage acts of government repression in the former Soviet Union.

No one has been held accountable. Many of the dead were buried in mass graves, or thrown into the Karasu River on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Their families continue to be persecuted.

In Uzbekistan, my father was the head of the state agency responsible for grain suppy and manufacture. His bosses at the Cabinet of Ministers misreported to Karimov that Uzbekistan has achieved the grain independence and there is no need to import grain anymore. Against this, my father during 18 months tried to reach out to Karimov and warn him that without grain import the Uzbekistan’s  grain security will be soon under therat. He worried that people would starve as a result and tried to contact President Karimov. But at the end, instigated by the corrupt officials who hided the truth abouy the grain supply the investigators from the Interior Ministry arrived and told him to sign a confession stating that it was him who misreported to President and embezzled the public funds. . We ran, but for a long time no one would believe our story.

Then the Andijan massacre happened and people began to pay attention to Uzbekistan, for a while. I was granted asylum in France where I live now. It was a revelation for me to see the power of citizen activism in France in the wake of the massacre; for so long, politics for me had meant the whim of one person, I had never known anything else. But ten years later, memories of Andijan have faded for many in France and elsewhere, except us Uzbeks, at home and abroad, who still live in fear.

In many ways, life in Uzbekistan is worse than in 2005. Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record and corruption are epic: No civic freedoms; nearly 12,000 political prisoners; a prison system that relies on torture and even boiling prisoners alive  in  the past; forced labor in which millions, previously including children, pick cotton; no political opposition. The president’s glamorous and Twitter-friendly daughter, Gulnara Karimova, once looked like a possible successor to her father. Following some very public disagreement with her father she is now fallen from grace and under house arrest in Tashkent.

The flow of refugees from Uzbekistan continue to grow but escaping the country is not an end to your troubles. Thousands of Uzbek citizens have been illegally placed on Interpol’s watch list by the Uzbek authorities, many of them eyewitnesses to the Andijan massacre. Some Uzbek citizens have been forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from European countries. Norway returned a group of Uzbek citizens in 2014 ; they were subsequently tortured and sentenced to 12 years in jail. Sweden, Latvia, Poland France and Britain have also recently begun to ignore overwhelming evidence of torture and repression in their consideration of asylum claims from Uzbekistan.

As life gets worse for Uzbeks, life just gets better for President Karimov and his close circle. In March, Karimov, who has governed the country since 1989, was “re-elected” for an unconstitutional fourth term. The elections, as ever, were a charade. Instead of censure, Karimov received congratulations from President Obama and other major dignitaries. Karimov and his close circle continue to profit handsomely from the country’s cotton industry, which runs on forced labor. 

Foreign investors such as General Motors and the Scandinavian Telecoms giant TeliaSonera are now shaken down to provide money and labor for the harvest, the proceeds of which then disappear into an extra-budgetary slush fund controlled by Uzbekistan’s top leadership.

I know I am not safe in France. Uzbek diplomats in Europe are involved in the monitoring of Uzbek dissidents abroad. Over half of the Uzbek diplomatic service is linked to the Uzbek National Security Service; Uzbek embassies in France and elsewhere in Europe coordinate the intelligence activities of Uzbekistan in the EU.

Each day I understand that I could be abducted. Every time I leave France, people advise me not to go, to be extra careful. I do not telephone people in Uzbekistan anymore because if I do, they will be questioned. In July 2013, I was sentenced to six years in jail in absentia. There is no evidence that I have ever committed a crime, and I’ve never signed a confession.

In the face of this growing authoritarianism, the EU needs to reconsider its stance towards Uzbekistan. France can help this happen. EU sanctions toward Uzbekistan were lifted in 2009 and yet the situation has only worsened.

France can demand the Uzbek government reinstate the accreditation of Human Rights Watch; that the OSCE mission is allowed to conduct its work; and the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Uzbekistan given the country’s ongoing abuse of human rights.

For me and for many others, the hardest part of being in France, and not at home, is psychological. I wake up each morning in my old bedroom in Tashkent. A colleague, a human rights defender, illegally crossed back into Uzbekistan when he heard his mother was seriously ill. He has since disappeared. I could never risk such a trip. We hoped things would change after Andijan; we were wrong. In Uzbekistan, we have returned to the Soviet period, maybe worse.

Nadejda Atayeva 

Ten Years after Uzbekistan’s Massacre, the Tragedy Continues to Unfold

 by Alisher Ilkhamov

Photo: On May 15, 2005, a relative mourns at the funeral of one of the estimated 500 people
killed by Uzbek troops in the city of Andijan.

© Shamil Zhumatov/Corbis

May 13 marks the 10th anniversary of one of the bloodiest events in the history of modern Uzbekistan. On that day in 2005, thousands of Uzbek citizens took to Babur Square in the city of Andijan in protest. The demonstration was a reaction to the three-month trial of 23 entrepreneurs from the Andijan suburb of Bogi-Shamol who practiced the moderate teaching of self-taught theologian Akram Yuldashev. As part of their religious practice, the businessmen donated to various nonreligious charitable projects—including nurseries, orphanages, and sports activities—that went against the system of corruption that reigned, and still reigns, in Uzbekistan. During the course of their trial, the community rallied respectfully in support of the entrepreneurs.

During the night of May 12, a small group of men helped free the unjustly incarcerated defendants. The next morning, thousands of residents took to the streets to peacefully show their support and see what was going on. President Islam Karimov arrived in Andijan early that morning to personally direct the official response to the protests.

Instead of seeking a dialogue, President Karimov immediately resorted to violence and ordered the military to suppress the demonstration by all possible means. Armored vehicles and snipers attacked the crowd, shooting indiscriminately. At least 500 people, among them women, children, and the elderly, were killed. The next day, 200 more were killed when they tried to cross the border into Kyrgyzstan.

Miraculously, 580 people managed to flee to Kyrgyzstan, 80 of whom were deported back to Uzbekistan by the Kyrgyz authorities. The remaining 500 were eventually resettled in Western countries thanks to support from the U.S. State Department, as well as the EU and UNHCR. These people were saved from likely deportation and harsh punishment back in Uzbekistan because the U.S. government prioritized human rights concerns over geopolitical considerations, including the risk of losing access to the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airbase in southern Uzbekistan.

Within a few years, however, Western priorities began to change as the war in Afghanistan picked up and relations with Pakistan soured. As the West sought to move more and more supplies to its troops through Uzbekistan, the EU dropped its ban on arms sales to Uzbekistan and the U.S. government waived sanctions prohibiting the provision of any assistance to the Uzbek government. Today, some in the West believe that the events of Andijan are well in the past, and that it’s time to turn the page and embrace an unconditional dialogue with Uzbekistan’s ruling regime, which is seen as a geostrategic partner in the war against terrorism and in the West’s dispute with Moscow over its neo-imperial policies.

But the Andijan tragedy didn’t end in 2005. It continues today, acquiring new forms.

During those protests, some 245 demonstrators were arrested, denied access to justice, and sentenced to long prison terms. At least 11 have already died as a result of torture.

After the Andijan events the Karimov regime reinforced its repressive policies, especially against independent journalists, civil society activists, and Muslims who wished to practice their religion outside of state-approved structures. According to Human Rights Watch, 12,000 Uzbek citizens have been imprisoned in the country’s gulag for attempting to practice their religion peacefully independent of this state-imposed religious system.

Since Andijan, hundreds have fled the country and sought asylum abroad. The leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Nadejda Atayeva, a refugee herself, says that in the last 10 years, over 1,000 refugees from Uzbekistan have applied for her assistance. This is just a small fraction of the total number of Uzbek refugees that have escaped Karimov’s repressive machine.

Since the events of 2005, the Uzbek authorities have worried that this wave of refugees could bring trouble should they ever decide to join the ranks of the political opposition. To pre-empt this possibility, the regime launched a secret program to pursue real, alleged, and potential opponents who reside outside the country. This program led to extraditions, using the mechanisms of Interpol and the CIS Minsk Convention on Legal Assistance of 1993, and even abductions and assassinations when legal channels didn’t yield results.

For instance, Lutfullo Shamsutdinov, a human rights defender who reported on the Andijan massacre and was later granted asylum in the United States, has been hunted since 2005 by the Uzbek authorities, who convinced Interpol to issue a warrant to detain him. Due to this warrant, Lutfullo had to wait five years for the green card that gives him permission to travel abroad. In 2006, another Uzbek human rights activist, Isroil Haldarov, was abducted from Kyrgyzstan, where he was registered with the local office of UNHCR as an asylum seeker.

In cases where neither extradition nor abduction worked, the Uzbek security services have sometimes resorted to murder. In October 2007, Alisher Saipov, a Kyrgyzstani journalist of Uzbek ethnic origin, was assassinated; Uzbek security agents are widely believed to be responsible for his murder. And in February 2012, in Sweden, there was an attempt on the life of the popular Uzbek Muslim theologian Obidkhon Nazarov, who had been long hunted by the Uzbek security services.

The Uzbek authorities have also systematically harassed the relatives of Andijan refugees who remain in Uzbekistan in order to discourage the refugees from engaging in political or public activity. For years, the relatives of Andijan refugees have been banned from leaving the country to reunite with their parents and spouses abroad.

Western countries should realize that the conflict between state and civil society in Uzbekistan has long moved beyond the country’s boundaries. In its pursuit of dissidents the Uzbek regime uses all available mechanisms—regional and international, legal and quasi-legal—and goes completely outside the system when they feel the need. Very few in the West have spoken out against this practice of cross-border repression. Ignoring it only encourages the Uzbek regime and its security services to commit further crimes.

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