Tortured Uzbek Rights Defender Freed as Health Worsens

The Uzbek authorities have released human rights activist Alisher Karomatov, apparently because his health has deteriorated to critical point after repeated torture and mistreatment.

Karomatov, who heads of the Syrdarya regional branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, was freed after serving six years of a nine-year sentence. He was arrested in June 2006 after acting on behalf of local farmers who were complaining about local government corruption.

According to the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch and local rights organisations, Karomatov suffered a range of torture including beatings on the soles of his feet, having a closed-off gas mask placed over his head to suffocate him to unconsciousness, and being forced to stand barefoot in freezing temperatures.

Human Right Watch researcher Steve Sverdlov says Karomatov was denied access to early release and amnesty by being repeatedly accused of breaking prison rules. In 2008, for example, he was placed outside in freezing weather for four hours without wardens forced Karamatov to sign the document stating that he violated the regime after they took him out to the frosty weather without clothes and forced him to stay there for 4 hours.

In October 2008, Karomatov was placed in a prison clinic with tuberculosis in both lungs. He was returned to Prison Camp 64/49 in Karshi in January 2011. His wife visited him April 2011, and then filed a request to the state Human Rights Commissioner's office to facilitate his release as he was in a "critical” state – he had suffered massive weight loss and had numerous sores.

Bahodir Namozov, heed of the Tashkent-based Association of Prisoners of Conscience, said Karomatov’s release should not be seen as a sign the authorities were becoming more responsive to concerns about the mistreatment of prisoners.

"If the authorities heeded the numerous requests we have made, or the demands from the international community to end the use of torture and release political prisoners, many prisoners of conscience would have been released," he said. "Instead, they release only those who are worn out by torture and who no longer post any threat to the regime."

Namozov said there were at least 30 activists and journalists in prison and subject to severe torture, including Salijon Abdurahmpnov, Aghzam Farmonov, Dilmurod Saidov and Aghzam Turghunov.

In November 2011, the authorities released journalist and human rights activist Jamshid Karimov, whose health had suffered badly from years of forcible detention in a psychiatric hospital. (See Uzbek Dissident Out After Five Years in Mental Hospital.) A month earlier, Norboy Kholjigitov, chairman of the Samarkand regional branch of the Human Rights Society, was released in ill-health. (See Uzbek Opposition Member Released.)

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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