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Tajik Officials Convicted of Torture

Nine officers are sent to prison for using violence to secure confessions, but corruption and poor training mean police criminality is still endemic.
By Nargiz Zakirova

Nine high-ranking law enforcement officers have been found guilty of using torture to force confessions from suspects - the first such criminal convictions since Tajikistan gained its independence more than a decade ago.


During the trial of the officials from the northern Sogd region, photographs were produced showing the badly beaten faces of suspects who apparently "confessed" to a murder.


The charges against the officials included forcing people to give false testimony by using physical violence, unlawful detention, exceeding their powers and falsification of evidence.


The Dushanbe-based Supreme Court, sitting in the Sogd region's administrative centre Khujand, found the deputy head of the region's police department, the head of the region's criminal investigation unit, the head of city's police and several interior ministry officials guilty on a variety of counts at the end of July.


All nine admitted the offences and received prison sentences of between three and seven years.


The charges stem from last year's investigation into the assassination of the chairman of the Jabarrasulov district. Six suspects confessed to the crime but later declared that they had testified under pressure.


According to sources at the Sogd regional prosecutor's office, the suspects were subjected to enemas with liquid pepper, electric shocks to the genitals and the extraction of fingernails and toenails.


Such violence is all too common in Tajikistan and can appear to be a major method of solving crime. Some law enforcement officials even view it as part of their job description.


"Yes, sometimes we have to use force against detainees, but what else is there to do if they do not want to confess that they have committed crimes?" said a detective at Dushanbe's district prosecutor's office.


"Next time, before committing a crime, they should think twice and decide if it's worth doing or not."


Akhmadshokh Komilzoda, a Voice of America correspondent arrested on political grounds in 1993, while Tajikistan was in the grip of civil war, believes that such sadistic attitudes can be partly attributed to a lack of professional training, claiming the police seem to have no understanding of other forms of questioning.


Ivo Petrov, head of the United Nations Tajikistan Office of Peace-building, backed this up at a World Anti-Torture Day press conference, saying that the local law-enforcement agencies lack access to modern investigative techniques.


Petrov now hopes that a five million US dollar provision from the German government, to establish a modern crime laboratory in the Tajik interior ministry and to educate its employees, will go some way towards solving this.


The Tajik people certainly hope so. Today, they distrust and fear the police as never before. This is not just due to the use of torture to obtain confessions but because the public feels many law enforcement officials have criminal pasts and are often involved in wrongdoing.


"When I see a policeman, I try to pass him at a distance," said Dushanbe resident Rustam Usmanov, who told IWPR that he was once detained on trumped-up charges by police seeking a bribe.


"They wanted me to confess that I was hiding drugs, in spite of the fact that I've never even seen any. My brother had to pay big bucks to get me out of there."


Police also often pick up drunk people and throw them into "sobering chambers", where money, watches and other valuables can mysteriously disappear.


One police colonel with more than 30 years experience, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR that he blames the poor morale and low professional standards among today's officers on sloppy recruitment practices.


"Anybody can become a policeman if he knows the right people or has money," he said. "At the same time, there are fewer professionals in the organisation: some are forced to leave, others can't take it anymore and get out themselves."


Azizmat Imomov, the first deputy of the prosecutor general's office, also blames the interior ministry for not exercising adequate control over its subordinates.


The problems are now being recognised at the highest levels. President Imomali Rakhmanov harshly criticised the work of law enforcement agencies in May, noting that a variety of criminal charges had been laid against 122 interior ministry employees, 42 security service workers, 68 customs and tax authorities employees and two judges between 1999 and 2002 - most for exceeding their authority.


The president also pointed to growth in authority involvement in the drug trade, with 15 law enforcement workers arrested on such charges last year, compared to ten in 2000 and only seven in 1999.


Analysts believe such figures are only the tip of the iceberg. And while the prosecutor general's office says that urgent measures are being taken to prevent employees of law enforcement agencies from committing crimes, they would appear to be making slow progress.


In the meantime, the citizens of Tajikstan are growing increasingly unsure of whom they can turn to for help and protection.


Nargiz Zakirova is a reporter for Vecherny Dushanbe in Tajikistan