Uzbek Activist Confessed 'Under Torture'

Ruslan Sharipov says police prepared suicide note and threatened to kill him.

Uzbek Activist Confessed 'Under Torture'

Ruslan Sharipov says police prepared suicide note and threatened to kill him.

Monday, 14 November, 2005

Ruslan Sharipov, the Uzbek human rights activist jailed for five and a half years last month, has said he only confessed to gay sex charges after police tortured and threatened to kill him.

Sharipov, 25, was found guilty of three charges including committing homosexual acts, still a crime in Uzbekistan, and having sexual relations with minors.

His August 13 conviction was based on a change of plea five days earlier, when he dismissed his lawyer and admitted guilt on one count, homosexual acts.

The claim that this confession was obtained under duress comes in a letter which Sharipov, now in a Tashkent jail awaiting dispatch to a labour camp, addressed to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on September 5.

"I suffered torture and indescribable psychological pressure during the investigation at the Mirzo-Ulughbek district department for internal affairs in Tashkent, the aim being to obtain a court confession to a crime that I did not commit," said Sharipov's letter.

He says the pressure on him mounted after three young men who took the stand as prosecution witnesses became confused under cross-examination, "This is why, at the most important stage of the court investigation, I was treated so harshly, despite the risk that I might tell my lawyers about the torture in court."

Under Uzbek law, signed confessions are admissible as sole basis for a conviction. Human rights lawyers say this makes trials questionable, as coercion of suspects has been widely documented.

According to Sharipov, investigating officers wanted to avoid leaving bruises that would be visible in the courtroom, "so the torture they applied was intended to leave no traces of beatings". Torture methods included suffocation by putting a gas mask on his head and spraying a substance in his mouth that left him choking, he said.

"I was unable to withstand all this torture any further - and I have only described some of it," said Sharipov, going on to list the police officers who assaulted him.

"They all said that… I would be imprisoned in any case, so it would be better for me to do everything they told me, so as to reduce the term of imprisonment and save my life and health."

In the end, he signed a confession, "I remembered their warnings that the lawyers would go away, and I would be left in their hands. I was extremely scared after everything they had done to me, and of things that I unfortunately cannot talk about.

"I was also scared about what they could do to my mother and brother, and also to my lawyers."

He further alleges that before he appeared in court to make his confession, the police officers dictated a suicide note to him, "A 'final statement' was taken from me - I wrote it under dictation - saying that I was committing suicide of my own free will. It was made clear to me that if I made a single appeal or complaint, I would 'commit suicide'."

IWPR approached the interior ministry about these serious allegations. Its department for combating terrorism - which has been involved in Sharipov's case even though the charges related to homosexuality - denied that torture had been used.

"I can tell you for a fact that no one laid a finger on Ruslan Sharipov - or even raised their voice to him - during the investigation," said Oleg Bichenov, a senior officer in the department.

"Statements that torture was applied are a trick which people on trial use on the advice of their lawyers."

Bichenov's blanket dismissal of allegations of torture made by any suspect, not just Sharipov, does not fit well with the evidence collected by independent observers.

Local and international human rights organisations - notably Human Rights Watch - have documented reports of torture which suggest that Uzbek security forces routinely use violence to extract confessions from suspects, in both politically-related and ordinary cases.

"We have seen a pattern where people were tortured and forced to confess," HRW's Central Asia researcher Acacia Shields told IWPR. "But torture does not end there. After conviction, the torture continues in the prison system in the form of beatings and solitary confinement."

Shields is in no doubt that Sharipov was targeted for his human rights work, "He spent a lot of time defending the rights of others. His case was brought in retaliation for his human rights work."

"It is the obligation of the international community not to abandon Ruslan Sharipov."

Sharipov will appear in court again on September 16, when the Tashkent city court will review his appeal.

"I am now afraid of my own shadow, afraid of noise, and afraid of the cell door opening, in the expectation of more torture from officers of the district police department," his letter concludes. "For now I am hoping that at least they do not arrange my suicide or cripple me."

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