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

Uzbek Death Cover-Up Claims

Relatives of an Uzbek shepherd demand investigation into his death in a Kyrgyz police cell.
By Khalmukhammed Sabirov

The family of an Uzbek man who died in Kyrgyz police custody believe the authorities in Bishkek and Tashkent have covered up details of his death to keep relations between them on an even keel.


The Kyrgyz authorities maintain that 43-year-old father of three Odinajon Burikulov, from the Andijan oblast border area of Markhamat, hanged himself in his police cell in April after he was arrested on suspicion of horse theft on the Uzbek side of the border with Krygzstan.


His family claims that the shepherd was murdered by Kyrgyz officers following three days of torture in the Aravan regional police department in the Osh oblast. When the body was returned to Uzbekistan, it allegedly bore signs of a severe beating, with injuries to the head, spine, ribs and legs.


The dead man's sister Khaeton Burikulova told IWPR, "Kyrgyz police, accompanied by their Uzbek colleagues, delivered Odinajon wrapped in a shroud and buried him within an hour or so. The Uzbek police didn't want to conduct a second forensic examination. They made it clear they were happy with the one carried out in Kyrgyzstan."


A Markhamat regional police department spokesperson said merely that the "the police do not want to provoke an international conflict between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz".


Burikulov's friends and relatives maintain that the Uzbek authorities helped their Kyrgyz colleagues to cover up the true nature of his death.


According to residents in the Aravan region, local officers held a party for their Uzbek counterparts on the day of Burikulov's death.


"The police officers from Uzbekistan were given a very warm welcome, and evidently the goal of this meeting was to decide how to report Burikulov's death," said one Aravan man, who did not want to give his name.


Lawyer Nina Azimova, who dealt with the Burikulov case, said that his arrest and the Kyrgyz police investigative procedures were in direct violation of an agreement signed by the two republics.


Under the terms of the Minsk convention, which was passed by CIS countries on January 22, 1993, when an Uzbek citizen is suspected of committing a crime under Kyrgyz law, the Bishkek general prosecutor must make an extradition request to his opposite number in Tashkent.


"Therefore, Kyrgyz law enforcement officers had absolutely no right to enter the territory of sovereign Uzbekistan and arrest a suspect," said Azimova.


The shepherd's grieving family is still looking for answers, but none are forthcoming. His mother, Khaitkon, has visited Tashkent twice since her son died, in an attempt to contact President Islam Karimov. "Evidently, my letters did not get to him," she said.


She has also been in touch with Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev, but she received no answer from him either.


Burikulov's father Ergash claims that when he confronted Aravan's regional prosecutor Saidali Muidinov, he was told bluntly, "You can write complaints to whomever you want but they'll be returned to Osh for examination and you won't achieve anything."


The problem is an increasingly common one on both sides of the still-disputed border, with Kyrgyz citizens often voicing complaints about the conduct of the Uzbek police.


Uzbek frontier guards shot at two cars driven by Kyrgyz citizens on August 13. Not long before this, two residents of the Osh oblast were detained by an Uzbek border patrol.


Talant Khaliev and his brother Talas were held on suspicion of stealing wire from a fence that divides the Osh region from the Fergana valley area of Uzbekistan.


The brothers, who claimed they were brutally beaten while they were under arrest, only managed to go free after paying a fine of around 350 US dollars, allegedly for damaging frontier property.


Cases such as this are souring relations between the two republics. The Kyrgyz and Uzbek peoples are beginning to regard each other as enemies, and the seeming indifference of their leaders when confronted with border problems is only heightening tension and leading to fears of conflict.


Khalmukhammed Sobirov is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Andijan.