Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Addressing Torture in Tajikistan

Disputes mainly centre on whether violence against detainees is a rare aberration or an accepted method of extracting confessions.
There’s no other way of getting a confession out of them,” said the investigator, describing why prosecution staff like him deliberately assault detained suspects in Tajikistan.

“The detainees are often very insolent and they even threaten us. It’s hard to restrain oneself in such cases. Seems to me any criminal deserves it. Next time he’ll think twice before breaking the law.”

The prosecution service investigator, who works in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, did not want to be named when IWPR interviewed him.

Despite this, there are regular reports of detainees being subjected to physical assault by members of the police and other law-enforcement agencies.

Officials are reluctant to acknowledge that torture occurs.

Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov says no criminal action was brought for the use of torture last year. He did not cite figures for the number of complaints filed.

However, senior police and prosecution figures, speaking on condition of anonymity, say torture and other forms of ill-treatment are used when suspects are being interrogated – not universally, but by some bad apples in the system, they say.

A prosecutor in the capital Dushanbe said torture happened. But he insisted these were “isolated cases, which are immediately investigated the moment they are reported to a district prosecutor’s office”.

Torture and other forms of mistreatment are against the law in Tajikistan, and are also prohibited under the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Tatyana Khatyukhina of the Centre for Human Rights says there are two national legal instruments applicable in Tajikistan – article 62 of the Criminal Code and a ruling issued by the Supreme Court.

The flaw, she said, is that neither of them sets out mechanisms for investigating torture allegations. In her view, that makes them “half-baked measures which do not promote the use of torture, but do not protect detainees from it, either”.

Qayum Yusufov, a lawyer who is part of Dushanbe’s bar association, said other legal loopholes made it possible for ill-treatment to occur, or in his words carried “the whiff of persecution”.

One problem is that lawyers do not have guaranteed access to their clients; and another is that the precise time that detention takes place is not noted, meaning that someone can be held for quite some time before a formal custody order is made out. “That’s precisely the period in which torture and other prohibited methods of investigation may be used on the detained person,” said Yusufov.

Human rights groups say physical abuse – and psychological pressure too – are commonly used during pre-trial detention to obtain a confession which will secure a rapid conviction. Inevitably, suspects will often confess to crimes they have not committed.

Among law enforcement officers, attitudes like those expressed by the prosecution service investigator interviewed by IWPR – that “any criminal deserves it” – appear to be quite common.

Sergei Romanov, country coordinator for the Fight Against Torture project, which Freedom House has been running with a grant from the European Union, says that to police officers, suspects represent the basic source of information. “They try to get information from them about accomplices, the circumstances of the crime, and so on,” he said.

When Khurshed Islamov was arrested in February this year on suspicion of robbing a Dushanbe casino, his family was told he would be released the same evening as he was innocent. However, Islamov swiftly confessed to the crime.

His mother Nazokat said that when she saw him next, she was sure he had been tortured. “After the so-called questioning, he couldn’t move around without being supported,” she said.

Islamov’s lawyer Mashhur Ghaziev was not allowed to see his client for several days, but when he finally gained access, he says, “Khurshed told me that they used electric shocks on his body during interrogation. This went on for five days after he was detained. After that, he was forced to admit to the crime.”

Police reject allegations of ill-treatment, and say two other suspects identified Islamov as the leader of the gang which did the robbery.

Ibodullo Nosirov, from the Dangara district of southern Tajikistan, makes similar claims of torture.

Arrested in 2006 on suspicion of murdering a 16-year-old girl, he confessed and was subsequently convicted and given a life sentence. An appeal upheld the verdict, but reduced the sentence to 30 years.

Both Nosirov and his relatives insist he was tortured into confessing. His elder brother Davlat says Nosirov was beaten with rubber truncheons over the course of a week.

Other forms of pressure were also used, according to Nosirov’s wife Jamila Haqnazarova, who accuses police interrogators of bringing her in, assaulting and beating her. She says the last straw for her husband was when police staged a pretend Islamic marriage between her and her cousin. He swiftly signed a confession.

Mustafakul Boymurodov has spent eight years in jail after confessing to a number of acts of terrorism. Initially he faced the death penalty, but this was later commuted to a 25 year term

Abdulkarim Boymuradov told IWPR his son was tortured into confessing.

“He was beaten with a truncheon, a pistol butt and a piece of metal tubing. Several of his toenails were pulled out with pliers,” he said.

Abdurahmon Sharipov, the lawyer acting for Boymuradov, says that since 2004 – in other words about three years into his sentence – his client has been on psychological and neurological treatment as a result of the ill-treatment he underwent.

Allegations of torture have never been looked into.

“Boymuradov’s testimony regarding the use of torture against him have was not checked either during the investigation or by the court,” said Sharipov.

Although alleged cases of torture occur in pre-trial detention, but human rights defenders also record abuses against convicts in penal institutions.

Boymuradov’s father claims that “now that he’s in prison, the torture continues. He told me this at our last meeting.”

Although Tajikistan has signed the UN torture convention, rights groups say it would help greatly if it also signed the optional protocol to the document. This would place the government under an obligation to allow local or international inspectors to visit places of detention. (For an earlier report on attempts to open up the prison system to greater scrutiny, see Shroud of Secrecy Surrounds Tajik Prisons.)

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