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

Death of an Uzbek Activist

Human Rights activist Shovruq Ruzimuradov has died after three weeks in police detention
By Galima Bukharbaeva

The body of human rights activist Shovruq Ruzimuradov, disemboweled and bearing the signs of extensive beating, was sent back to his home village last week.

Campaigners say Ruzimuradov, 44, was tortured to death while in custody at the interior ministry headquarters in Taskent. The Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, IHROU, described his death as a "political assassination".

Ruzimuradov, who leaves behind seven children, was from the village of Alla Karga in the Yakkabaq district of Kashkadaria. He was involved in the monitoring of human rights abuses over the last twenty years, first as an independence activist, then a parliamentary deputy and later as a campaigner with the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, HRSU, and other organizations.

HRSU said Ruzimuradov had recently been engaged in monitoring human rights in the Kashkadaria and Surkhandaria regions. He made it his brief to be present at all trials of prisoners charged with political and religious offences. He passed on his reports to journalists and NGO's.

Last year, he was the first to report on the displacement of villagers accused of collaborating with religious extremists on the Uzbek-Tajik border. His stories eventually drew worldwide attention to the plight of local people.

His opinions had brought him into conflict with the authorities in the past. In May 1991, he was stripped of his deputy status after a personal conflict with President Islam Karimov. Later, in a separate development, he was convicted on what his friends believe were trumped up charges and sentenced to four years imprisonment.

According to HRSU, Ruzimuradov was arrested on June 15 this year. His house was searched, and ammunition, drugs and leaflets of the banned Islamic organization Khizb-ut-Takhrir, were found. His supporters believe all the evidence was planted by police.

All attempts to establish Ruzimuradov's whereabouts during his detention failed. The first news his family received was a phone call on July 7 - to notify them of his death.

The victim's brother Shavkat said police brought the body to Alla Karga by car. He said it bore signs of extensive bruising, and internal organs had been removed. One of the policemen told the family that Ruzimuradov had hanged himself, unable to endure the torture he was subjected to.

The authorities were keen the funeral was kept as low key as possible, encircling the village to ensure that inhabitants of nearby villages were unable to attend. Human rights activists who drove down from Tashkent were stopped, detained and ordered to return to the capital.

The authorities have so far failed to issue any official statement on Ruzimuradov's death. The IHROU released the following, "The situation with human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan continues to deteriorate, while the attitude of the authoritarian regime towards dissidence, criticism, political opposition and even to human rights, is becoming even more strict."

HRSU said Ruzimuradov represented a real threat to the Uzbek authorities, since he was a fervent human rights campaigner and was widely respected by ordinary people. " It seems the authorities really wanted him out of the way," said a spokesman for the organisation. "I don't think they wanted to kill him, but he is a strong man and they probably had to torture him a lot to try to make him break. He may have died while they were tormenting him or committed suicide to put an end to his suffering."

Uzbek activists say international support is essential if the human rights situation in the country is to improve. The authorities don't realise that dragging corpses out of a police cell damages the country's internationl reputation. This sort of action suggests that the government, far from leading the country into the 21st century, is returning it to the violence and darkness of medieval times.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR project director in Uzbekistan

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