Tajik NGOs Step Up Anti-Torture Campaign

Recent death in detention highlights routine use of torture against suspects.

Tajik NGOs Step Up Anti-Torture Campaign

Recent death in detention highlights routine use of torture against suspects.

Friday, 28 February, 2014

The death of a man in police custody has raised concerns about the continued use of torture in Tajikistan.

Umedjon Tojiev died in hospital on January 19 after falling from a third-floor window at a police station on November 2.

Tojiev, a member of the legal Islamic Rebirth Party, was arrested in the Isfara district of northern Tajikistan on October 30 and initially accused of extortion, charges that later changed to membership of a banned Islamist organisation.

The authorities attribute the cause of death to circulatory and heart problems.

Defence lawyer Faizinisso Vohidova says that Tojiev was driven to jump after he was repeatedly tortured, and that he was only taken to hospital on January 4.

“He was subjected to torture and electric shocks, and a [suffocating] polythene bag was placed over his head,” a female relative called Mohinisso told IWPR. “He was deprived of sleep for three days in the detention centre, and was told to sign a blank piece of paper. They gave him electric shocks through his fingers. He told us that himself.”

Two other men accused of the same charges were put on trial after being made to confess under torture. Gufron Shodiev got eight-and-a-half years and Zuhur Ibrahimov was sentenced to nine years.

The late Tojiev’s lawyer, Vohidova, has asked the prosecutor general to investigate what she says is a criminal act of torture.

“He told me he threw himself out [of the window] because of the incessant torture by police,” she said. “Many members of the public are detained unlawfully, for no reason whatsoever, and tortured in police offices behind closed doors.”

Police in the northern Soghd region are saying nothing about the Tojiev case, but acknowledge torture takes place.

Deputy regional police chief Nuriddin Pirimshoev says there were a number of cases last year.

“Unfortunately, last year there were recorded cases where staff of the Soghd regional internal affairs department went beyond their official mandate. By their actions, they harmed the police’s reputation and dented public confidence in the law-enforcement agencies,” he said.

The NGO Coalition Against Torture has asked the government to conduct a thorough investigation into all deaths in custody. Investigations are under way in three of the seven deaths in custody which the coalition lists in addition to Tojiev’s case, but it says these have been protracted and have produced no results.

Suspects are particularly vulnerable to torture at the pre-trial stage, as coercion is an easy way to extract confessions that will secure a guilty verdict at trial, regardless of whether the suspect is guilty or innocent.

Tajikistan has signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but not its optional protocol which requires signatory states to set up independent inspection mechanisms. (See Tajik Rights Groups Plan Prison Visits on this issue.)

Kamar Ahror is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

This audio programme went out in Russian and Tajik on national radio stations in Tajikistan. It was produced under two IWPR projects: Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Reforms in Tajikistan, funded by the European Union; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Norwegian foreign ministry.  

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