Uzbek Police Abuse Scandal

Police officers suspected of fatal beatings are put on trial after public outrcy.

Uzbek Police Abuse Scandal

Police officers suspected of fatal beatings are put on trial after public outrcy.

Four policemen in Tashkent are being prosecuted for the murder of a detainee and the torture of another - the first time Uzbek officers have been tried for professional misconduct.

Human Rights workers hope that a guilty verdict will help prevent the abuse of suspects in police custody in future.

The fact that the case came to trial at all is astonishing in itself given that the Uzbek authorities have never previously owned up to the possibility of police misconduct.

The public outcry triggered by the attacks and the overwhelming evidence against the officers meant the alleged incidents could not be covered up.

Unable to sweep the affair under the carpet - not least because foreign journalists in the country covering the Afghan crisis has reported on it - the authorities have attempted to turn the scandal to its advantage by making it seem justice is meted out to police who cross the line.

The officers have been charged with brutally torturing and killing Ravshan Khaitov and disabling his brother Rasul. The brothers were reportedly beaten up after they were brought to the Sabir-Rakhumov police station last October.

They had been picked up on suspicion of being members of the militant Islamic organisation Khizb-ut-Takhrir. The brothers denied any involvement with the group, which has been targeted by the authorities in the wake of the US-led war on terrorism.

One of the accused policemen told the court that they were merely doing their duty and helping rid society of "enemies of the people".

The two brothers were arrested on the evening of October 16 last year by four officers from the Sabir-Rakhumov police department.

The following morning, just 12 hours after the arrest, Ravshan, 32, was dead and Rasul, 27, on his way to a nearby hospital.

Nuriddin Boboev, Shavkat Rakhmanberdiev, Mukhiddin Nagimov and Yashin Gafurov were charged with torturing the brothers, killing one and disabling the other.

The charges were based on testimony given by the surviving brother who can barely walk or talk following the beating, he says, he underwent after his arrest.

Rasul said that he and his brother were taken to separate rooms in the police station. After just a few minutes, he went on, the police started to beat him, telling him that they had proof he was a member of Khizb-ut Takhrir. "They started to beat me, threw me to the floor and started kicking me," Rasul told the court.

He said they stepped up their torture when he continued to deny any involvement with the Islamic group, "They showed me some needles and started sticking them under my nails, lifted me up by my arms and my legs and threw me on the floor."

Rasul said they dragged his naked brother in during the beating. "He didn't even have any underwear on and was covered in blood, " he said. " He couldn't hold his head up. I was really scared when I saw him, and then the militiamen told me that they would now rape us, me with a bottle and my brother with a rubber truncheon."

Rasul said the last time he saw Ravshan he was lying motionless, covered in blood and handcuffed.

The Khaitov family found out what had happened to Ravshan and Rasul on October 17 when the police came to their house and took their mother to identify the body. She returned later that day in tears, shouting that "they've killed Ravshan".

Ravshan's wife, Mavjuda, later described the condition she found her husband in. "His neck was broken, his wrists and back covered in bruises and the skin had been ripped off his legs," she said.

Thirty policemen were deployed to make sure the body was prepared and buried quickly and with as few people as possible witnessing the horrific injuries.

While the four policemen admit to arresting and interrogating the brothers, they deny beating them, and have the backing of their superior officers.

"This is pure provocation," said Gafurov. "As soon as we arrested Rasul Khaitov, he started beating himself, bashed his head against the safe and the doors and then threw himself on the floor."

In court, Khikmat Oktamov, deputy chief of the Sabir-Rakhimov police district, said that he didn't believe the officers had committed any sort of crime.

According to him, after September 11, 2001, the Uzbek police had undertaken a tougher workload and that any "procedural mistakes" they made ought to be treated leniently.

Besides, said Oktamov, the Khaitov brothers had resisted arrest, injured themselves in the police station and then, with cries of "Allah Akbar", attempted to jump out the window.

Human rights organisations in Uzbekistan say that torture is widely used by the police when carrying out interrogations. Ravshan's death in custody is certainly not the first such incident. In July last year, Shavruk Ruzimuradov, a former parliamentary deputy and human rights activist, died during questioning.

"The use of torture on those suspected of membership of religious organisations is standard," said Mikhail Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Organisation for Human Rights in Uzbekistan. The conviction of the police officers, he said, could set a precedent for such "executioners".

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR regional director in Uzbekistan.

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