A tragic story of trumped up charges that claimed a life
In a women's prison located in the Zangiota district of the Tashkent region, on 13 September 2014 a prisoner, Nilufar Rahimdzhanova, died. She was accused of “involvement in terrorism”. The cause of her death can not be established. The authorities in Uzbekistan do not allow her body to be given to her father or husband in Tajikistan.
Nilufar Rakhimjanova’s husband — Yunus Abbasovich Burkhanov (who creates under a pen-name of Sayidyunusi Istaravshani) is a journalist who writes on topics related to Islam. He studied Philosophy and Studies on Oriental Counties. He is a native speaker of Tajik, Uzbek and Russian; he is fluent in Persian and Arabic. Currently he lives in Iran and teaches Philosophy and some non-degree courses at the Mustafi University of Tehran. Sayidyunusi Istaravshani is also an editor of a website titled «Kemyae Saadat». He takes an active part in the discussions of the processes taking place in the Central Asia and related topics in the social media. He also attends conferences held in the European counties.
Nilufar Rakhimjanova’s father — Maruf Rakhimdjanov is a theologian. He goes by a pseudonym of Domullo Marufdjan Istaravshani. In mid-70s he taught at the Mir-Arab Madrasah of Bukhara in Uzbekistan. He is the author of a translation of the Quran into Tajik and a Commentary on Quran. In the Soviet days, he was a fellow member of the Uzbek Institute of Restoration. In 1991, he wrote a letter addressed to Islam Karimov, President of Uzbekistan, in which he did not hide his discontent with the way the Mufti of the Central Asia was dismissed. From 1990 till June 1992, he was the Imam of the Kukaldosh Mosque of Tashkent. After this, he spent more time in Tajikistan. In December 1992, he was arrested by the Tajikistan authorities. During the Civil War, he was released in the process of exchange of prisoners between the guerrillas and the state fighters. He is 64 years old. He writes books, conducts research on religious topics; he translated and published Saadi’s poetm entitled "Gulistan" and "Buston". Tajik Special Forces accused him of “involvement with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)”. These allegations are not confirmed, on the contrary, he criticised the IMU for their aggressive policies.
Since 1994, Nilufar Rahimdjanova lived in Iran, with her husband and children. From time to time, she visited her relatives in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In July 2011, she left Iran for Tajikistan, to visit her relatives. At some point, while she was in Tajikistan, she called her husband to say that she was going to Tashkent to the wedding of her brother. He warned her that it is not desirable to go to Uzbekistan, because the Uzbek authorities have long been annoyed by his criticism and that of her father, a theologian Domullo Marufdjon. But she decided to go anyway.
The last visit to Uzbekistan
When crossing the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border at the Bekabad City Checkpoint, in November 2011, Nilufar Rakhimdjanova was arrested. As it emerged later, the authorities had a valid reason to arrest her. Ms Rakhimdjanova crossed the border without a passport, by bribing a border-guard and they let her go through. This practice is widespread among the border guards of the Bekabad Checkpoint. She crossed the border in the same manner in 2009, 2010 and 2011, by bribing the border-guards. However, this time, she was handcuffed once in Uzbekistan’s territory. During her questioning, Nilufar Rakhimdjanova told the police that she was born in Bukhara; her father is a famous theologian; she has a dual Uzbekistan-Tajikistan citizenship. She lives in Iran, under her Tajikistan passport, where her husband teaches at the University. At the same time, she still has a valid Uzbek passport issued in 1997. She never renounced her citizenship of Uzbekistan.
Investigatoin and the Trial
Nilufar Rakhimdjanova cooperated with the investigation and was willing to answer all the questions put to her by the investigating officer, who kept reassuring her that he wanted to help her to get back to her family as soon as possible. Allegedly, the best way to expedite the process of her return was to consent to give a TV interview where she will say that her husband is a member of the IMU; he sent her to Uzbekistan to commit an act of terrorism. The investigating officer was very persuasive that this interview will attract mercy; the President will issue a Pardon and she will be able to return home to her family. In deed, in 2012, she did give a TV interview where she repeated all what the investigating officer asked her to say.
During the preliminary and full investigations, Nilufar Rakhimdjanova was not allowed to see her relatives; her lawyer conducted the case just for sake of formality. During her trial, she gave evidence, also confirmed to her relatives, that she repeated what the investigating officers asked her to say, because they promised her quicker return to her family.
The Court sentenced her to 10 years of imprisonment. According to her relatives who were present at the trial, she was sentenced under the Articles 155 (Terrorism) and 223 (Illegally crossing the border when entering or leaving the country) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan. She was also accused of spying for Tajikistan. We do not have exact details of accusations against her, because they did not give a copy of the sentence to her relatives.
The lack of access to reliable information
The relatives of Nilufar Rakhimdjanova living in Uzkekistan are very scared and asked her husband not to contact them. They are reluctant to help him in his search for information about the cause of her death and refused to send him her Death Certificate. Her body was given to her brother who lives in Tashken, on conditions that he will burry her quickly and without making much noise. Nilufar Rakhimdjanova was buried in Uzbekistan.
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The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia is of the opinion that Nilufar Rakhimdjanova is a victim of trumped up charges of “terrorism” and “spying for Tajikistan” and of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. It is a known fact to us that discrimination against ethnic Tajiks, especially of those who have extended families living in Tajikistan, has been going on for a long time in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek authorities used her violation of border crossing and passport control rules to generate further, baseless, graver charges. Additionally, these are charges against not only Nilufar Rakhimdjanova but also against her father, a well respected theologian Domullo Marufdjon Istaravshani, and her husband Yunus Abbasovich Burkhanov, who is openly opposed to the Islam Karimov regime. More than 4 years ago, Uzbek authorities applied travel bans against her father and her husband. The fact that Nilufar Rakhimdjanova was forced to give incriminating TV interview against her family shows that she did not have access to legal representation and was mislead by the investigating officers. One cannot exclude use of psychotic substances as use of such chemicals is known in Uzbekistan in cases related to terrorism. According to her relatives, Nilufar had no idea what the IMU was.
Lack of access to reliable information, inadequate legal representation and constant pressure on relatives living in Uzbekistan give grounds for not excluding that Nilufar Rahimdjanova was subjected to ill-treatment not only in the investigation stage of the case,, but also when serving her sentence. It is possible that this is why the authorities did let anyone identify the cause of her death, and demanded a quick funeral.
According to independent sources, before her arrest, Nilufar Rahimdjanova did not suffer from any chronic diseases. But in prison she was ill and was very frightened and tense. One day, she admitted that she was often asked to testify against her husband and father, and that is why she cried often.
Other similar cases
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia has learned that a former General of the Uzbek Army, Border Guard of the Surkhandarya Region of Uzbekistan, Zakir Hasanov suffered a similar fate. He was born in Leninabad (presently Khojand), and is an ethnic Tajik. He lived and worked in Uzbekistan, had Uzbek citizenship. In 2011, he was suspected of spying for Tajikistan. The authorities also planted drugs on him. The prosecution argued that he was smuggling drugs in conspiracy with the former Afghan army colonel, a citizen of Afghanistan Murtazakul Azizullo. Zakir Hasanov was imprisoned for 20 years, and Murtazakul Azizullo for 15 years. They both serve their sentences in prison 64/21 in the town of Bekabad of the Tashkent Region.
In 2011, the above prison colony was visited by the mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Its members met with Murtazakul Azizullo. Through him they leaned that Zakir Hasanov is in need of medical care. At their next visit they added Hasanov to their list of prisoners to visit. On 22 September 2012, on the eve of a new visit by the ICRC, a group of prisoners in the list of the mission, were sent to another prison, Khavast in the Syrdarya region. This was done in order to avoid leakage of information on the status of political prisoners as a result of torture and poor prison conditions. They were registered as in “transit” that will wait for few days before being escorted to another prison colony that is why the information about their location is not recorded anywhere. They were detained at the Khavast station for 47 days and then returned to the colony 64/21. This is the practice of General Directorate of Penitentiary Institutions, who do not want to show the prisoners to the independent observers, especially the victims of torture. Then Zakir Hasanov had to be sent to the Khavast prison. Suddenly he was sent to the Tashkent prison as the accused on new charges, it was 14 September 2012. They kept him hidden from the Red Cross for a long time. In October 2012 we learned that in the Building No.4 of the Tashkent Prison, he died from torture. He was forced very hard to testify that he had spied for Tajikistan.
Our organisation continues to research other similar three cases. That is why we do not publish them yet.
The expulsion of Tajiks from Uzbekistan
Access to the information regarding deportation of ethnic Tajiks from Uzbekistan is denied even to lawyers. We present you the information collected by the applications made to our organisation.
G.B. is a 35 years old citizen of Tajikistan, (the family asked not to be identified because of the threat of persecution of ethnic Tajiks living in Uzbekistan). In 2011, she married an ethnic Tajik who is a citizen of Uzbekistan. In May 2014 she was forcibly deported from Uzbekistan because she missed the registration deadline. Two young children stayed with their father in Uzbekistan. They complaint to the Prosecutor's Office, the Interior Ministry and the Customs authorities of Uzbekistan asking for a permission to be granted for the mother to return to her children, with no success.
Yosimbay F., born in 1948, and Aziz T. born in 1980, both are ethnic Tajiks living in Uzbekistan since 1999. They were deported to Tajikistan in 2013.
We know of more than 14 cases of deportation of citizens of Tajikistan, they were deported to their historic homeland, although they lived in Uzbekistan for 10 or even 20 years. In some cases either children or the parents are citizens of Uzbekistan.