Calling for an End to Torture in Central Asia on International Anti-Torture Day

On 26 June, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and International Partnership for Human Rights are calling on the authorities of all five Central Asian countries to prevent torture, punish the perpetrators and provide reparation including compensation to the victims.

The authorities of the Central Asian countries have taken some steps in the right direction in recent years and pledged to take further positive measures. For example, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan improved legislation on safeguards against torture in detention and in February 2017 the Prosecutor General's Office of Kazakhstan presented its strategy entitled “Towards a Society without Torture" and a plan of 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 investigation into alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment. In Turkmenistan, positive legislative steps include the criminalization of torture and provisions for independent medical examinations of prisoners. In Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the law “on the Ministry of Internal Affairs“forbidding law enforcement officials to use torture or ill-treatment, as well as legislation to introduce video and audio recording of interrogations of criminal suspects by 2018.

Some of these positive changes have yet to be implemented in practice and other major challenges remain. Torture and ill-treatment continue to constitute a serious problem in Central Asia. In 2016 the NGO Coalitions against Torture registered 163 new cases of torture or ill-treatment in Kazakhstan, 112 new cases in Kyrgyzstan, and 57 cases in Tajikistan.  It is believed that these figures only reflect the tip of the iceberg since many victims of torture and their relatives refrain from lodging complaints for fear of reprisals or because they have lost hope of attaining justice. Given the closed nature of the countries of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan it is difficult to establish estimates of incidents of torture and ill-treatment. However, independent sources from Turkmenistan report that the practice of torture and ill-treatment remains widespread and results from a survey by the Turkmen International Lawyers’ Association indicate that 90 percent of people detained by law enforcement bodies are subjected to psychological or physical pressure. In Uzbekistan the practice of torture continues to be routinely used, as evidenced by the numerous statements of victims and former prisoners received by AHRCA over the past year.

In all five countries investigations into torture and ill-treatment are rarely conducted effectively and none of them has set up an independent body to investigate complaints. Tajikistan has awarded compensation to victims in five cases, which is a positive step, but the amounts awarded have been neither fair nor adequate. 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. In Turkmenistan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not register cases of torture or ill-treatment and according to their information centre there are no recorded cases of criminal prosecutions for torture (article 182).  In Uzbekistan, sources report that torture is used by National Security service officials to force detainees, especially those who have been forcibly returned or extradited to Uzbekistan from abroad, to confess to anti-constitutional crimes.

In order to draw attention to the plight of torture victims the Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are conducting public campaigns to mark 26 June. For example: 
  • In Kazakhstan the Coalition against Torture has published a series of individual cases of victims of torture; produced a short video about the history of the fight against torture in Kazakhstan from the ratification of the Convention against Torture in 1998; and a video appeal from Kazakhstani lawyers highlighting the eight main recommendations from the United Nations to the authorities of Kazakhstan on torture.
  • In Tajikistan the NGO Coalition against Torture has organized a campaign entitled "I am against torture, today, tomorrow, always!", in June. As part of the campaign, photo stories of victims of torture and ill-treatment are highlighted on the Coalition website; journalistic awards have been given for contributions aimed at countering torture; public awareness campaigns include screening quotes by President Emomali Rahmon in which he condemns torture on outdoor screens in Dushanbe; the work of different human rights defenders is highlighted through social media; and photo exhibitions illustrating cases of victims of torture and ill-treatment will be held on 28 June in the cities of Khorog and Vakhdat.
  • In Kyrgyzstan the NGO Coalition against Torture’s campaign includes television discussions with leading experts; a poster exhibition featuring stories of victims of torture and their families; a football tournament which was held in Bishkek on June 24 with participants including representatives of state structures, the human rights Ombudsman’s office, lawyers, the NGO Coalition against torture, journalists, Kyrgyzstani pop stars etc. The goal of the tournament was to demonstrate the joint determination to combat the harmful practice of torture in Kyrgyzstan.
Unfortunately, due to the closed nature of the government in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the ongoing repression of civil society there, it is impossible for civil society to organize public campaigns on human rights issues.


Uzbekistan: 68-year old Human Rights Defender Nuraddin Jumaniyazov dies in detention

Nuraddin Jumaniyazov
AHRCA and IPHR have learned that wrongfully imprisoned human rights defender Nuraddin Jumaniyazov has died in detention in Uzbekistan. Relatives of the labour rights’ activist Nuraddin Jumaniyazov reported in June 2017 that he died in prison on 31 December 2016. We express our condolences to his relatives, friends and colleagues.

Nuraddin Jumaniyazov was born on 8 October 1948 in the city of Turtkul in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan. He was divorced with two children. In 2003 he founded the Human Rights Center “Mazlum” and in 2012 he helped set up the Union of Independent Trade Unions to Support Labor Migrants and headed its Tashkent branch. In January 2014 he was arrested and charged with people trafficking (Article 135.3 of the Criminal Code) along with his colleague Fakhriddin Tillayev.

On 6 March 2014 Shaykhantur District Criminal Court of Tashkent found both men guilty and sentenced Nuraddin Jumaniyazov and Fakhriddin Tillayev to eight years and nine months’ and ten years and eight months’ imprisonment respectively. Both men appealed against the verdict on the grounds that their rights had been violated during the criminal investigation which lasted for under two hours as well as during the court hearing which did not meet fair trial standards. However, in April 2014 the appeal was rejected. The late Polina Braunerg (who died from a stroke on 19 May 2017) acted as defence lawyer for the two human rights activists.

Nuraddin Jumaniyazov suffered from severe diabetes and was insulin-dependent. He was last seen in public at the appeal hearing in April 2014, during which he asked his lawyer to help obtain medicines to treat his illness.

In October 2014, Polina Braunerg was informed that Nuraddin Jumaniyazov had been transferred to the prison hospital facility “Sangorod – UY 64/18” in Tashkent for treatment. However, she was unable to obtain permission to meet him until April 2015 when she was still unable to visit him because officials of the Main Directorate of Penitentiary authorities (further GUIN)[1] refused to inform her of his precise whereabouts.

In July 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) raised the case with the Uzbekistani government delegation, the chairman of which promised to clarify Nuraddin Jumaniyazov’s whereabouts within two weeks.  AHRCA and IPHR are unaware of any reply from the authorities on this matter.

Shortly after the HRC hearing, the authorities increased pressure on Polina Braunerg in Uzbekistan. In July 2015 she again requested permission from GUIN to visit Nuraddin Jumaniyazov and was told he was in prison colony 64/49 in the town of Qarshi in southern Uzbekistan. Officials at Qarshi prison colony told her that her client needed to submit a written request to see her – however the restrictions on communication with prisoners imprisoned on politically motivated grounds meant that Nuraddin Jumaniyazov could not do this as he did not know he had a defence lawyer. The prison officials referred to a hard copy of the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) where Article 10 provides that in order to see a lawyer a prisoner must submit a written request. Polina Braunerg pointed out that in the internet version of the CPC Article 10 states that “A prisoner can meet his/ her legal representative confidentially at his/ her or at the lawyer’s request.” This resulted in a situation of stalemate which Polina Braunerg tried to resolve by lodging official complaints with the prosecutor’s office and the court. She soon reported receiving anonymous calls with threats of reprisals against her and her son.

Unexpectedly, in February 2017 a GUIN official informed Polina Braunerg that Nuraddin Jumaniyazov had been transferred to the prison hospital and that she could meet him.  However, when she got there (intending to pass him medicine to treat his diabetes) she was told he had been transferred to prison colony 64/48 in Navoiy region, central/northwestern Uzbekistan. The Navoiy prison colony officials informed her that they had no such prisoner there.

At no point did the authorities inform Nurradin Jumaniyazov’s lawyer that he had died two months previously. Given the pattern of harassment by the Uzbekistani authorities of relatives of prisoners, we do not exclude the possibility that Nurradin Jumaniyazov’s family had come under pressure from the authorities to keep silent about his death and not even inform his defence lawyer.

UN standards clearly set out in the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment that all imprisoned persons “shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person“[2] ; that an imprisoned person “shall be entitled to communicate and consult with his legal counsel“[3] and that medical care and treatment shall be provided whenever necessary and free of charge.[4]

AHRCA and IPHR are concerned that the Uzbekistani authorities failed to adhere to these international standards in Nuraddin Jumaniyazov’s case, and in fact obstructed his right to see his lawyer and to receive the necessary medical care. The treatment of Nuraddin Jumaniyazov reflects a broad pattern of human rights abuses inflicted by the Uzbekistani authorities on human rights defenders, journalists and those who are critical, or perceived to be critical, of state policies.

[1] Main Administration for Execution of Punishments (GUIN)
[2] Principle 1 UN Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under any forms of Detention or imprisonment
[3] Principle 18 UN Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under any forms of Detention or imprisonment
[4] Principle 24 UN Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under any forms of Detention or imprisonment