Torture in Central Asia: time to break the vicious circle!

One night in July 2018 police officers drove up to Shahboz Ahmadov’s house in the southern Yavan district of Tajikistan and instructed the young man to accompany them to the local police station to help them solve a crime. But when they arrived they reportedly took him to an office, closed the door, accused him of injuring a person with a knife, kicked and beat him and gave him electric shocks until he confessed. After holding Shahboz Ahmadov in police detention for several days the victim of the stabbing told the officers that Shaboz was not the perpetrator. The officers let him go but warned him to keep silent about the torture. But Shahboz went for a forensic medical examination and filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Initially, an investigation was opened and two of the alleged perpetrators were charged. But the investigation was flawed and prosecutors closed the case. The perpetrators have not been punished and Shahboz has not obtained justice for his suffering.

Sadly, cases like Shahboz Ahmadov‘s are common in all Central Asian states, although, unlike him, many innocent individuals are charged and convicted based on confessions extracted under duress; and numerous victims of torture and their relatives do not lodge complaints for fear of reprisals by the perpetrators and give up all hope of obtaining justice through the criminal justice system. Often, only when a person dies as a result of torture do the relatives speak out.

In 2018 Central Asian NGO coalitions against torture recorded 143 new cases involving allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in Kazakhstan, 377 in Kyrgyzstan and 44 in Tajikistan. Both in Uzbekistan and in Turkmenistan no independent NGOs working on torture have been able to register and due to the repressive nature of the regimes it has been impossible for activists to compile reliable nationwide statistics.

Today is the United Nations (UN) International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. And on this day we renew our call to Central Asian governments to live up to the principles and the spirit of the UN Convention against Torture. All five Central Asian countries have now been parties to the Convention against Torture since the late 1990s. Over two decades later, why are the brutal practices of torture and ill-treatment still widespread?

For many years local and international human rights groups have regularly drawn attention to torture and much has been achieved. Civil society groups have supported hundreds of victims in their struggle for justice, formulated policy recommendations, tried to engage in dialogue with domestic policy makers and advocated for change in international human rights fora. It is largely thanks to these efforts that several dozen victims have attained justice and the perpetrators have been punished; and that there have been precedents in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan when victims of torture or families of deceased victims have received some compensation for moral damages. Central Asian NGOs have also provided much needed rehabilitation services for victims of torture and their relatives, particularly in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Important progress has been achieved in strengthening legislation against torture in all five countries, but all too often legal safeguards are not implemented and officials who fail to adhere to them are not held to account. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have made some progress by allowing public oversight over detention facilities and setting up National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs), although problems remain such as insufficient financial resources of the NPM in both countries. Tajikistan has allowed limited monitoring of detention facilities through the Ombudsman’s Office. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan significant efforts have been made to integrate the standards of the Istanbul protocol into the work of medical doctors examining victims of torture.

But in order to put a definitive end to torture and ill-treatment the authorities have to publicly acknowledge the true extent of the problem, publish comprehensive statistics on cases and investigations, allow independent monitors full access to detention facilities, and address entrenched systemic problems. The judiciary in all five countries is not independent and both in law and practice, the defendant’s position is notoriously weak compared to that of the prosecution. Law enforcement and prison officials often prevent lawyers from visting their clients and speaking with them in confidence. Victims, lawyers and human rights defenders risk reprisals by law enforcement agencies when raising allegations of torture and are left vulnerable, with no functioning mechanisms of protection.  Not one of the countries has put independent mechanisms in place to investigate allegations of torture; conflicts of interest prevent investigations being effectively carried out, cause major delays and lead to cases being closed, often in spite of glaring evidence of abuse. Medical doctors who examine victims of torture frequently come under pressure by law enforcement agencies for recording injuries inflicted through torture and other evidence, and not one of the Central Asian countries accepts or gives due consideration to the conclusions of independent forensic medical or psychiatric experts in court. Police officers lack the skills to professionally investigate crimes and typically get away with extracting confessions and fabricating evidence under duress. Successfully combating torture also requires tackling corruption in the criminal justice system as officials frequently exploit the vulnerability of suspects and detainees for their personal gain.

For further information on concerns, recommendations and individual cases of victims of torture, please refer to the following documents:

Tajikistan: Joint NGO submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee ahead of the consideration of Tajikistan’s Third Periodic Report at the 126th session in July 2019, NGO Coalition against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan, International Partnership for Human Rights, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, June 2019;

Turkmenistan: Submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Tajikistan, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, October 2017;

Uzbekistan: Committee against Torture. Written information prior to the 66th session - adoption of the List of Issues, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and International Partnership for Human Rights, January 2019.



Statement in support of HRW researcher Steve Swerdlow

Steve Swerdlow, a researcher for countries of Central Asia at the international human rights organisation HRW, was subjected to a provocation by a group of people in Tashkent, coordinated by a certain Sardor Kamilov, whose name is linked to the pro-government online resource called «SAYYOD.COM». 

As it transpired, on 13 June 2019, a man, posing as Sardor Kamilov, asked a hotel receptionist to call Steve Swerdlow’s room and allow him to talk to the HRW employee because he allegedly needed to report human rights violations. Steve Swerdlow decided to respond to the request to meet the unknown person showing interest. As soon as he descended to the breakfast area of the hotel, Kamilov and four unidentified persons met him in the lobby of the hotel where Swerdlow was staying. This group of individuals showed hostility towards him (#хейтеры, #hayter) and harassed him (#харассмент, #harassment).

Within seconds, Steve Swerdlow was surrounded by unfriendly people who, without permission, began filming him, and aggressively commenting on his attempts to find out what was happening. Steve Swerdlow clearly could not hide his confusion and in response also began recording the unknown haters in video. Observing the manifestations of the vulnerability of the human rights activist Swerdlow, Sardor Kamilov offered him cynically valerian and stigmatised him for criticism, calling it anti-Uzbek propaganda and disrespectful attitude towards Uzbekistan. Employees of the hotel observed what was happening and were practically inactive, even after having seen that Steve Swerdlow was surrounded by people whose behavior looked unpredictable.

Two episodes from this video footage have been circulated on the webpage of «SAYYOD.COM» on Facebook and on YouTube, which caused a widespread public reaction.

Steve Swerdlow was forced to call the hotel security and soon leave the hotel altogether.
Foto: HRW

A representative of the government of Uzbekistan, who became aware of the incident, expressed regret and said that this incident would not be ignored.

This psychological attack on Steve Swerdlow, a representative of a reputable international human rights organization, has some signs of being an ordered job. It is possible that the provocation was coordinated by influential forces in the government of Uzbekistan, clearly wanting to intimidate and provoke a security threat to a foreign guest. Alternatively, the State Security Service of Uzbekistan has to recognise its inability to ensure the security of not only Uzbek human rights defenders, but now even foreign ones.

What happened to Steve Swerdlow should be noted by all independent observers, diplomats, first of all members of the UN Human Rights Council and journalists, especially those who have been asking for permission to visit Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is a country that has an equal voice in the United Nations and other international organizations, the government has ratified many international conventions in the field of human rights. Evidently, Sardor Kamilov does not yet understand that the role of a human rights activist is precisely to give an independent assessment of the fulfilment of the obligations that the state assumes when signing each agreement, and the investment climate in Uzbekistan, as well as the credibility of the reforms that were announced by the government of Uzbekistan depend on this assessment. Steve Swerdlow received permission to visit Uzbekistan as an employee of HRW, which has ECOSOC status.

If anyone disagrees with the assessment of a human rights activist, this can be challenged in a civilized manner, excluding any attacks for the criticism, without degrading human dignity and exclusively in a legal manner. However, recently some authors, hiding behind freedom of speech, have declared themselves to be journalists and bloggers; they make accusations in violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence, intimidate, blackmail, invade private space in violation of principles of protection of the personal data, manipulate facts and commit fraud, use illegal means of collecting information, and they do it all fanatically and maniacally. This is a criminal practice and criminal liability is provided for such actions in many countries, including Uzbekistan. Even if this attack on human rights activist Steve Swerdlow was carried out without the coordination from the security services and not commissioned by officials who are especially intolerant of criticism, the inaction of the law enforcement and judicial authorities does not exempt them from the responsibility of the state in whose territory such illegal actions took place.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia also encountered a hater attack by a group of people and has been in the process of litigation against them for more than two years (2017-2019). Such actions cannot be ignored; every effort must be made to hold those responsible for this kind of pressure on critics accountable.

We express our support for Steve Swerdlow. There is no doubt that he will feel the support of many citizens of Uzbekistan and of his colleagues these days. The behavior of Sardor Kamilov and other participants in this psychological attack is the exception rather than the rule.

Steve Swerdlow and the HRW team enjoy great confidence and in any difficult and dangerous situation they retain their integrity and independence. The HRW mission was the first to visit Uzbekistan, in the hope of a constructive dialogue in the field of protection of human rights, after President Shavkat Mirzieyev came to power. The official position of HRW  in respect of the incident.

We hope that Tashkent will find it possible to express its position on what happened to the HRW employee during his visit to Uzbekistan and explain to the public the following:

         — How did “blogger” Sardor Kamilov and others find out which hotel human rights activist Steve Swerdlow was staying in? 
         — Why did the hotel not offer adequate protection to the guest, who was legally staying in its territory?
         — Why the prosecuting authorities thus far failed to qualify the actions of Sardor Kamilov and other participants of this attack?
         — Did Sardor Kamilov and other participants of the attack have the opportunity to hold a discussion on all issues in conditions of openness and mutual respect?

Official representatives of the government of Uzbekistan declare from high tribunes of international meetings their commitment to the respect of human rights and their preparedness for a dialogue. However, what happened with the HRW employee, Steve Swerdlow, shows that thus far Uzbekistan failed to provide safe conditions for the participants of this process.


Uzbekistan: Stop harassing human rights defenders Agzam Turgunov and Dilmurod Saidov

The Uzbekistani authorities should end the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, Agzam Turgunov and Dilmurod Saidov, and allow them to continue their  human rights work unhindered said Amnesty International (AI), the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) , International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (PHF).

Despite the expressed commitment made by the authorities that surveillance of peaceful activists would cease, the Uzbek government continues the practice of surveillance and harassment – months after the international human rights community drew attention to the issue and called on the government to safeguard the rights of all rights defenders, the groups said.

Agzam Turgunov and Dilmurod Saidov are under constant surveillance by security officials, and they face harassment, intimidation and threats, including thinly veiled death threats.  The authorities are also prosecuting Turgunov on dubious administrative charges, in what appears to be retribution for his human rights work. Furthermore, the authorities have refused to register Agzam Turgunov’s human rights group. On 28 February 2019, Turgunov, Saidov and former political prisoner Azam Farmonov submitted an application to register the human rights organization, Restoration of Justice. The application was refused on 29 March 2019 on formal grounds relating to the rules of the registration process that were made deliberately unclear.

The intimidation and harassment of Turgunov appears orchestrated to keep an active independent human rights defender in check and contradicts Tashkent’s expressed intentions to carry out human
rights and justice reform in the country. We are concerned that the authorities may be seeking to put Turgunov and other human rights defenders and activists behind bars again”, Brigitte Dufour from IPHR. “We call on President Mirziyoyev to ensure the safety, independence and operational freedom of all human rights defenders and activists”.

Surveillance and Threats

Agzam Turgunov and Dilmurod Saidov have been under surveillance since last autumn – during a visit to Tashkent last October, IPHR personnel witnessed how plain-clothes individuals stalked the home of Turgunov – and the surveillance is ongoing. On March 25, one of the security service officers surveilling Turgunov ‘s home threatened him, hinting that a car might knock him down. Last year Saidov was threatened that he would be subjected to enforced psychiatric treatment were he not to cease his human rights work. Both have been prevented from leaving their homes for long periods during the day by law enforcement officials.  In addition, Saidov has been targeted by rumours that he suffers from infectious tuberculosis, although he does not have an open form of tuberculosis and he is undergoing treatment.

Persecution of our local partners is something we take very seriously” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee Regional Representative in Central Asia. “The activities of rights campaigners like Turgunov and Saidov are crucial in the ongoing reform process – we urge Tashkent to view them, and all other human rights defenders and activists, as partners for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country instead of a threat.

Harassment and intimidation

The pattern of judicial harassment of Agzam Turgunov dates back to August 2018. On August 30, 2018 Agzam Turgunov was found guilty by an administrative court of failing to comply with the orders of law-enforcement personnel after he filmed peaceful protesters outside the Supreme Court.[2] Turgunov reports that he simply asked a man in plainclothes whom he believed to be a plain clothed police officer to show his police identification. The court ordered him to pay a fine of 184 300 Uzbek Som (approx. $22 or 20 EUR). Turgunov appealed the decision, and the appeal hearing on November 30 was conducted in violation of international fair trial standards. Turgunov was invited to the judge’s office but  was not informed in advance that it was  a hearing. Judge Hasanov allegedly insulted Turgunov and the witness, and ordered them both to be detained. They were released only later that evening after international intervention.  Both Turgunov and the witness lodged complaints about the behavior of the judge with the Attestation Committee.

On March 30, 2019, Agzam Turgunov received a court summons informing him that the authorities have charged him under articles 41, 180 and 194 of the Administrative Code, defamation, contempt of court and failure to comply with the orders of a law enforcement official respectively. Turgunov told the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia that the authorities charged him with defamation and contempt of court following an appeal hearing on November 30 in which he appealed against the earlier administrative decision.

On 15 April 2019, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee was present as the Administrative Court began hearing Turgunov‘s appeal. On 18 April, the court ruled that the complaint against Judge Hasanov should be considered by the regional court, and that it would wait for the conclusions before continuing the consideration of Turgunov‘s appeal against the original sentence from 30 August 2018. A new date for the court hearing has been set for 14 May 2019.

Agzam Turgunov is at risk of a criminal conviction because in Uzbekistan, if three administrative convictions are obtained in succession, a criminal case may be initiated.

It appears that the Uzbek authorities have opened the two administrative cases against Turgunov in response to his continued efforts to register the human rights organization, Restoration of Justice. 

The Uzbek authorities recently organized a large-scale celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet a range of easily-resolved human rights challenges continue to slow down genuine change,” said Nadejda Atayeva, President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “If serious about human rights, Tashkent should cease all harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and peaceful activists; respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association including by allowing the registration of human rights organizations.

The continued harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and activists threatens Tashkent’s reform efforts and hinders the process of achieving genuine change in the country. Instead of continued harassment, the Uzbek authorities should respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association including by providing a conducive environment for the work of human rights defenders, and allowing the registration of human rights groups.


Uzbekistan: Concern over Reports of Torture of Rashitjon Kadirov and Co-Defendants

Amnesty International, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA)Human Rights Watch (HRW)International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee express deep concern about allegations that Rashitjon Kadirov, former Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan, and his twelve co-defendants have been tortured and suffered other forms of ill-treatment in government custody.
The trial of Kadirov and his co-defendants began behind closed doors on 7 January 2019 in Yunusabad District Criminal Court. Kadirov has been charged under 12 articles of the Criminal Code for offences including fraud, bribery and embezzlement. We urge the Uzbekistani authorities to investigate the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment immediately and, if there is credible evidence of ill-treatment, prosecute all those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials meeting international standards. We also remind the authorities of their obligations to guarantee the physical and mental wellbeing of Kadirov and his co-defendants, and to ensure that their treatment conforms with international human rights law by which Uzbekistan is bound.
Credible reports from sources close to Kadirov indicate that since being detained on 21 February 2018 he has been subjected to psychological abuse, death threats, sleep deprivation and threats against his relatives, to force him to incriminate himself. The sources report that during a 10-month criminal investigation in 2018, more than 40 people, including Kadirov’s relatives, were summoned to testify and that some of them were arbitrarily detained, beaten, and otherwise ill-treated by law enforcement officers. All the witnesses have been released.
Three co-defendants released from pre-trial detention in August 2018 remain under house arrest. Kadirov and the remaining nine co-defendants held in pre-trial detention since February 2018 are at continued risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
Two credible sources and a witness  who saw Kadirov in detention in August 2018 have reported ill-treatment of Kadirov. The witness stated that they saw a long furrow on Kadirov’s neck, and that Kadirov was noticeably depressed, withdrawn, and barely able to respond to questions. The witness reported that Kadirov was wearing a long-sleeve sweater and despite a request from the witness refused to remove the sweater for further physical inspection.
Kadirov told the witness that he had been placed in a cell with three other prisoners who subjected him to psychological pressure and physical abuse including beatings under orders of prison officials. The witness also said that Kadirov stated that officials held a pistol to his head to get him to make a false confession; told him he would be hung, and the death made to look like suicide; kept him naked in solitary confinement without a bed or bedding; regularly deprived him of sleep between 21 February and 18 March 2018; and threatened to frame him for a murder he did not commit.
Law enforcement officials have also forced Kadirov to watch as other law enforcement officials beat his son-in-law in an effort to coerce Kadirov to incriminate himself, the witness said. His access to food, medicine and the toilet has reportedly been restricted. In May 2018 Kadirov was taken to the prison hospital for treatment for a short period.
Treatment of witnesses and co-defendants in Rashitjon Kadirov’s criminal case
Our credible sources, who request anonymity for reasons of security, state that Kadirov’s co-defendants and others temporarily detained as witnesses in connection with the investigation have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and violations of due process. Defendants Ulugbek Khuramov, Ramazan Pulatov, Muhabbat Mirzaeva, Akhmat Ikramov, Ulugbek Sunnatov and Jamshit Faiziev reportedly made statements in court alleging they had been tortured, including with beatings on the soles of the feet and an electric current, including to the genitals.
Ramazan Pulatov is said to have suffered a stroke after being interrogated for several hours and threatened with reprisals against his family and has since been unable to speak or walk. He and Miraglam Mirzaev, another defendant, who reportedly suffered a stroke during his arrest, were taken to court by ambulance due to their conditions. Muhabbat Mirzaeva and Yusuf Goipov, another of the defendants, also suffer from particularly serious health problems. We also received credible reports that Shukur Aminov, a witness, was tortured with beatings on his kidneys to force him to provide evidence against the accused.
On 3 March 2018 law enforcement officials searched the homes of nine of Kadirov’s relatives. From 5 to 10 March of the same year 13 male relatives were reportedly detained for three days and kept in solitary confinement.  Four of Kadirov’s female relatives were detained for a short time and told to raise and deliver to law enforcement officers a very large sum of money; and on 6 March 2018 another relative was taken to see Kadirov in his cell and this relative was told that if they did not raise and deliver a large amount of money to law enforcement officials their sons would be arrested and held in the cell with Kadirov.
At least eight partners and clients of Kadirov’s son Alisherbek Kadirov’s law practice were also detained as witnesses, and some were beaten by law enforcement officials, interrogated for several days without sleep and subjected to psychological pressure to force them to testify against Rashitjon Kadirov. Seven witnesses made statements in court saying that from March to June 2018 they had been subjected to psychological and physical pressure to give statements. They renounced their witness statements in court. Lawyers for the accused reportedly submitted 40 requests for medical examinations and investigations connected with detention conditions, all of which the judge refused.
Our credible sources also report, though, that following Amnesty International’s Urgent Action of 8 April 2019, which called for an impartial investigation into concerns that Kadirov and his co-defendants were at high risk of torture and other ill-treatment, the judge ruled that all co-defendants should undergo a medical examination to ascertain whether they had been tortured.
While this is a positive step, we remain concerned about 11 and 21 April 2019 statements by the Prosecutor General’s Office following Amnesty International’s Urgent Action, asserting that forensic-medical examinations conducted in the course of investigations had not discovered any evidence of bodily harm.  The statements did not provide any further detail. Such a response cannot be regarded as an independent and impartial investigation of the relevant allegations. Moreover, the conclusions of the forensic-medical examination have not been made available to the defense, and it is unclear who conducted the examinations and when.

Calls to the Uzbekistani authorities
Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to office in 2016 he has taken steps to improve Uzbekistan’s human rights record, including presidential decrees and legislative amendments to strengthen the protection of citizens’ rights in judicial processes.
Under international law the prohibition of torture is absolute, and applies at all times, in all circumstances, including in times of war or public emergency, and applies to all states irrespective of their treaty obligations as a rule of customary international law. The absolute prohibition of torture applies in all cases, including in those where individuals themselves may have carried out serious crimes and human rights violations.
Thus, we remind the government of Uzbekistan about its international obligation to prevent the use of torture and other ill-treatment in all cases without exception. We urge the authorities to open an effective and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Rashitjon Kadirov, his co-defendants and others and, if credible evidence is found, to prosecute all those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts.
We also urge the Uzbekistani authorities to promptly confirm the state of health of Rashitjon Kadirov and his co-defendants and to grant him and his co-defendants access to necessary and adequate medical assistance.
We call on the Uzbekistani authorities to ensure that the trial of Kadirov and his co-defendants is open to independent observers and experts, to lift the ban on disclosure of information related to the case, and to ensure that defendants are represented by a lawyer of their choice and are guaranteed a free and fair trial.
Uzbekistan has an international obligation to protect against executive interference in judicial decisions, as set out in the Constitution of Uzbekistan and international human rights standards that provide for an independent judiciary. We call on the international community to monitor the progress of this case to ensure due process and adherence to international fair trial standards as well as to protect the defendants and witnesses from the risk of torture and other ill-treatment.


Switzerland’s Appalling Decision to Return Seized $100 million Yacht to Known Kleptocrat

Dear Johan Droz, Office of the Attorney General of canton Geneva;

We, the undersigned Equatoguinean and international human rights and anti-corruption organizations write with grave concern and dismay at a recent decision by the Office Attorney General of Switzerland to settle a case against the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea and current Vice President, Teodoro Nguema Obiang (know as Teodorin). 

We welcome the concerns raised by Swiss Parliamentary representatives to the reputational risk Switzerland faces for returning a luxury Yacht to a ‘violent’ kleptocratic regime; as well as their request for clarification in understanding the Swiss decision.

The Office of the Attorney General decided to hand over to Teodorin a $120 million USD yacht, in exchange for him paying $1.5 million in legal fees and having the proceeds from the sale of 25 luxury cars – including a Bugatti Veyron valued at $2.2 million USD and a Swedish-made Koenigsegg One:1 valued at a base price of $2.8 million USD – to be used on ‘social programs’ in Equatorial Guinea, the parameters of which remain unclear to the people of Equatorial Guinea, the intended beneficiaries of the arrangement. No assets should be returned to kleptocrats, and in this case the Swiss authorities must ensure that funds are restituted through well-designed and monitored social programs for the benefit of the people in Equatorial Guinea.

Our organizations strongly believe that the decision of the Geneva Attorney General amounts to a win for the Obiang regime in general, and in particular, for Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang. De facto it leads to amnesty and prevents a criminal investigation or civil charges against a known kleptocrat who, according to investigations by law enforcement authorities in South Africa, Brazil, France and the USA, has plundered the national wealth of Equatorial Guinea through relentless embezzlement and extortion. Furthermore, this decision – a soft slap on the wrist of a compulsive spendthrift – deprives the Equatoguinean people of justice, as it legitimizes the regime's impunity. Moreover, it provides a green light for other kleptocrats to abuse the financial institutions and laws of Switzerland to facilitate their lavish lifestyle while the majority of people in their countries live in abject poverty.

Teodorin has consistently demonstrated his disregard of judicial proceedings against him globally, and asserted himself as above the law. On numerous occasions, the government of Equatorial Guinea has audaciously portrayed Teodorin’s ill-gotten assets as property of the Equatoguinean State in order to deflect corruption and embezzlement charges against him. This facade was evidenced in the French case against Teodorin for embezzlement and money laundering charges. The government of Equatorial Guinea attempted to derail the case by filing precautionary measures before the International Court of Justice, claiming breach of immunity given Teodorin’s position as Vice-president, and declaring Teodorin’s mansion in Paris a diplomatic residence, after it had been raided by the police.

The US Department of Justice concluded that Teodorin used his position in government to divert millions of Dollars in public funds and extorted illegal fees to his personal bank accounts. It found that “after raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fueled spending spree in the United States”.

French investigators similarly concluded that Teodorin amassed artwork, jewelry and properties in France, including a mansion worth approximately 100 million Euros, with proceeds from corruption. In retaliation, the government of Equatorial Guinea recently issued an arrest warrant against William Bourdon and Daniel Lebegue; respectively, the lawyer leading the case in France against Teodorin, and the former chair of the board of Transparency International-France, the anti-corruption organization that brought the case.

Yet, despite the ample damning evidence of brazen corruption against Teodorin in the US and France, and despite the ongoing corruption investigations against the Obiang family in Brazil and Spain, the Swiss Attorney General decided to turn a blind eye. This is a decision we – the undersigned organizations – believe raises severe concerns about the integrity of the Swiss decision-making process and what the Swiss authorities deemed ‘sufficient’ to ‘repair the damage’ caused by Teodorin to the people of Equatorial Guinea.

With worrying consistency, most recently in Kazakh II and now Equatorial Guinea, the Swiss authorities have shown a willingness to sidestep their commitment to the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles and responsible asset return. In particular, Principle 9 which precludes “benefit to offenders.

We strongly feel that the Swiss Attorney General’s settlement falls short in remediating the harm caused to victims of corruption and sends a dangerous message to kleptocrats around the world. Thus, we urge you to revise the settlement agreement with the government of Equatorial Guinea. Concretely, we urge you to take all necessary steps to avoid causing inadvertent harm to intended beneficiaries and ensure ‘stolen assets recovered from corrupt officials should benefit the people of the nations harmed by the underlying corrupt conduct’ (Principle 5, GFAR Principles). We urge you to ensure that neither Teodorin nor his family benefit or retain de facto control over the disposition of the funds (Principle 9, GFAR Principles).

Furthermore, Switzerland’s ‘Policy on Asset Recovery’ requires that every repatriated asset must follow the principles of transparency and accountability (objective 14) to ensure that recovered assets are not used again for illicit purposes. The assets must be directed to improve the living conditions of the asset’s country of origin and strengthen the rule of law. In this case the undersigning organizations urge the Office of the Attorney General in Geneva to carefully define the process for restitution, the type of projects, partners to be responsible for implementation and a clear monitoring process.

For this reason, we recommend that the Swiss government:

     Coordinates with the United States and France about asset repatriation to Equatorial Guinea, in particular exploring the possibility of agreeing on a joint process
     Maintains a transparent, accountable and audited process in choosing a third party that will manage the repatriated funds
     Ensure Equatoguinean civil society is involved henceforth in the decision-making process to determine how assets should be returned, for what purpose and by whom, in a transparent and accountable manner (Principle 10, GFAR principles)
     Implement effective protections to prevent government or private reprisals against any potential beneficiaries of the agreement
     Devise a responsible asset return framework which operationalises the GFAR principles and, in particular, is driven by a need to remediate the harm caused to victims of corruption in Equatorial Guinea (Principle 6, GFAR principles).

· EG Justice
· ADISI Cameroon
· African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Nigeria
· Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA)
· Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International Nigeria
· Civil Forum for Asset Recovery (CiFAR)
· Corruption Watch UK
· Global Witness
· HEDA Resource Centre, Nigeria
· International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), Queen Mary University of London and Ulster University
· Sassoufit – Congo Brazzaville
· Transparency International Ireland
· UNCAC Coalition
· Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF)

Tajikistan: Release Gravely Ill Activist

Political Prisoner Says Guards Beat Him, Refused Him Medicine

Mahmadali Hayit
(Almaty, March 20, 2019) – The Tajik government should immediately and unconditionally release a seriously ill political activist who says he has been tortured, nine human rights groups said today. The prisoner, Mahmadali Hayit, is deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country’s largest opposition party, which was banned by the government in late 2015. 

During a visit on March 9, 2019, Hayit showed his wife, Savrinisso Jurabekova, injuries on his forehead and stomach that he said were caused by beatings from prison officials to punish him for refusing to record videos denouncing Tajik opposition figures abroad. Jurabekova said that her husband said he was not getting adequate medical care, and they both fear he may die in prison as a result of the beatings. Hayit has spent more than three years in prison and is currently being held at detention center (SIZO) number 1 in Dushanbe.

“These disturbing revelations about Mahmadali Hayit’s ill-treatment should jolt all of Tajikistan’s international partners into action,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “We ask diplomatic representatives on the ground in Dushanbe to seek permission to visit Hayit and other prisoners of concern and press for their immediate release.”

The groups are the Association for Central Asian Migrants, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Global Advocates, Human Rights Vision Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Hayit, 62, was arrested in September 2015 on politically motivated charges and sentenced to life in prison in June 2016 following a closed trial. The government banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and then designed it a terrorist organization in 2015.

Following her March prison visit, Jurabekova told journalists and rights groups that her husband is very ill. Hayit told her that he is held in a “tiny, dirty cell” with other prisoners, and that prison officials have beaten him repeatedly during his three years of incarceration. Hayit said they beat him for refusing to participate in videos falsely incriminating the IRPT chairman, Muhiddin Kabiri, who lives in exile.

Hayit suffers from liver and kidney problems. Hayit also told Jurabekova the prison authorities had denied him access to heart medication that she had brought to the prison and that he thought he had suffered a heart attack on February 6 but received no medical care. He told his wife that he had not reported his treatment earlier because he had thought it might be better for him not to speak publicly about it, but he asked her to make it public now because he believes he may not survive another six months if the abuse continues.

In an opinion released in May 2018, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Hayit’s immediate release because his detention violated Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations. Tajik authorities currently refuse the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisoners and detainees in the country. Tajik authorities should urgently act on the UN Working Group’s call, allow Hayit access to independent medical assistance. and release him, the organizations said. 

The United States, the European Union, and other key international entities should make unequivocal calls for Hayit’s release and for the release of all others imprisoned in Tajikistan on politically motivated charges, the groups said. They should also request access for diplomatic representatives, including from the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to visit Hayit in detention. 

International entities should press the Tajik government to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion and impose targeted punitive measures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik government officials responsible for imprisoning peaceful activists, torture, and other grave human rights violations.

“Tajikistan’s international partners should publicly and unanimously condemn this mockery of justice,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajikistan’s human rights situation has been spiraling downward rapidly, and Washington, Brussels, and all actors should consider enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”


Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned from Russia

Faces Torture, Politically Motivated Prosecution

Opposition figure Sharoffidin Gadoev at a meeting with his relatives in the presence of Tajik Interior Ministry officials in Dushanbe on February 15. © 2019 Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry

(New York) – Tajik and Russian officials arbitrarily detained and forcibly returned to Tajikistan a peaceful opposition activist while he was visiting Moscow, the Association of Central Asian Migrants, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Human Rights Watch, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today. 

The activist, Sharofiddin Gadoev, is being held in Tajikistan. The government has issued a series of choreographed videos and photographs designed to show that he “voluntarily” returned. Russian and Tajik officials beat him in Moscow and on the flight to Tajikistan. Gadoev should be released and allowed to return immediately to the Netherlands, his country of legal residence, the groups said.

“No amount of staged videos or photographs will change the awful truth that Tajikistan and Russia have shamelessly flouted their international obligations,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Sharofiddin Gadoev was arbitrarily detained in Russia, beaten, and spirited away to Tajikistan, where he faces trumped-up charges for his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.”

Gadoev, 33, is a member of Tajikistan’s opposition National Alliance and the former deputy head of the banned Group 24 opposition political movement. On February 15, 2019, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry announced that he had flown from Moscow to Dushanbe of his own accord to “surrender” to authorities at the airport for various crimes. Gadoev was taken into custody when the plane landed and remains in detention. 

However, each day since, the government has displayed Gadoev in a series of orchestrated videos and photographs where he has been seen meeting with his mother, sister, and other acquaintances. In the videos, Gadoev states that he returned to Tajikistan of his own free will and denounces other opposition figures. 

But Gadoev’s relatives and other sources investigating the case told Human Rights Watch that Russian and Tajik authorities used physical force to detain him in Moscow and forced him onto the plane. They say Gadoev’s statements on camera have been made under duress through physical and psychological pressure.

On February 19, Gadoev’s colleagues published a video recorded earlier by Gadoev in the Netherlands, in which he states:

If you see this video, it means I have been murdered, kidnapped or that I have gone missing…If I suddenly turn up on state television or on YouTube declaring that I am in Tajikistan and that I have returned of my own free will, you must not believe this. I would under no circumstance ever return to Tajikistan of my own free will.

Gadoev was the former deputy to the late head of Group 24, Umarali Kuvvatov, Gadoev’s cousin. Kuvvatov was shot dead in Istanbul in March 2015 under circumstances that pointed to involvement by Tajikistan’s security services. The Tajik government banned Group 24 in October 2014, and later designated it an extremist organization, arresting several members on vague and overly broad extremism charges.

Gadoev has lived in the Netherlands since 2015, where he is a recognized refugee. Tajik authorities have frequently interrogated and harassed several of Gadoev’s family members in Tajikistan as retaliation for his political activism.

On February 13, Gadoev flew from Amsterdam to Moscow with a round-trip ticket for meetings with officials from the Russian government’s Security Council regarding political developments in Tajikistan. Sources investigating the case say that on the afternoon of February 14, Russian security services officials met him at his hotel to drive him to a meeting.

Sources investigating Gadoev’s case learned that Russian security services officers in a second car stopped Gadoev’s car, forced Gadoev into their car, and drove him to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. Relatives told Human Rights Watch that the officers beat Gadoev in the car.

The Russian officers, avoiding passport control, placed Gadoev on Somon Air, Flight 1223 to Dushanbe. The Tajik airline has links to the family of President Emomali Rahmon. On the flight, Gadoev was accompanied by officers from Tajikistan security services, who beat him and placed a sack over his head. Gadoev was delivered in that condition straight to Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry’s agency for the fight against organized crime early on the morning of February 15.

Since February 15, Gadoev has been in Interior Ministry custody, but also at times in the custody of the security services. Unidentified Tajik officials handed bloodied clothing belonging to Gadoev to his relatives on February 15. On February 20, Gadoev was reportedly transferred to house arrest, but officers from Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and special forces (OMON) remained with him, and a day later he was moved to an undisclosed location by Tajikistan’s security services. 

The Interior Ministry announced initially that he has been charged with possession of contraband under article 289(1) of Tajikistan’s criminal code and forgery under article 340. On February 21, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesperson told Radio Ozodi, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that:

[t]he Tajik authorities have confirmed to the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs that Mr. Gadoev is in Tajikistan and was arrested on charges of criminal activities. At this time the Dutch MFA investigates whether and how it can assist Mr. Gadoev. We are following the case closely.

The Tajik government has carried out a severe human rights crackdown over the past five years, jailing hundreds of political activists and human rights lawyers and banning opposition parties. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have documented efforts by Tajik authorities to detain, imprison, and silence peaceful opposition activists and perceived critics at home and abroad. Since 2015, Dushanbe has sought the detention and forcible return to Tajikistan of peaceful political activists in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and elsewhere.

Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and any involvement of, or acquiescence by, state agents in the extrajudicial transfer of Gadoev to Tajikistan is a serious violation of the convention.

In cases involving unlawful removal of people from Russia, the European Court of Human Rights has warned that:
…any extra-judicial transfer or extraordinary rendition, by its deliberate circumvention of due process, is an absolute negation of the rule of law and the values protected by the Convention. It therefore amounts to a violation of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Convention.
“If Dushanbe wants to be taken seriously, it should stop the smoke and mirrors,” said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee Regional Representative in Central Asia. “There are troubling questions that Tajik authorities may have ill-treated Sharofiddin Gadoev. Tajikistan’s international partners, including diplomatic representatives on the ground, should seek access to visit with Gadoev and call on the Tajik government to provide him with unimpeded access to an attorney of his choice and visits with family members.”