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

Uzbek Police 'Frame' Suspects

Law enforcers suspected of corrupt practices to meet near-impossible arrest quotas set by the Tashkent authorities.
By IWPR contributors
Uzbek police stand accused of fabricating evidence and wringing false confessions from alleged suspects in an attempt to meet detection targets.

Former law enforcement agents and human rights groups have told IWPR that the 100 per cent detection rate demanded by the authorities is leading to innocent people being convicted.

Officers who fail to meet the state's objectives are viewed as "unsatisfactory" and risk losing their jobs.

A sergeant major in one of Tashkent's regional interior departments, who would give his name only as Ikram, told IWPR that officers are set targets for arrest numbers which are often based on the previous year's crime figures.

Thus, if there were 100 reported cases of apartment break-ins in a certain area one year then at least 100 thieves must be detained in the next.

Ikram says the authorities employ a carrot and stick approach to achieve their quotas: officers are offered inducements such as extra leave, bonus payments and promotion in return for arrests, but can face demotion if they fail to meet their targets.

As a result, says the source, officers often fabricate evidence against innocent people and torture them into making confessions - claims that have been corroborated by human rights monitors and IWPR inquiries.

They say the police sometimes plant incriminating material such as drugs and pamphlets of banned Islamist groups on alleged suspects and pressure witnesses to give false testimony against them.

For example, one witness testified in court that on August 30, 2000 he had seen police search a Tashkent man who was found to have drugs and anti-government leaflets from the outlawed Islamist organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir in his possession.

A few days later, the same witness just happened to be walking through a different area of the capital when he witnessed another person undergoing a search in which similar leaflets discovered.

One woman, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that her 18-year-old son had been wrongfully charged by officers eager to make an arrest.

"My son spent two years in custody after being falsely charged with murder - the police had to find someone to detain for an unsolved killing. Eventually, he was acquitted, but his health was badly affected as a result," she said.

Kudrat Babadjanov, from the Khorezm region, told IWPR that his family felt forced to retract a complaint about the theft of four car tyres after they saw how officers were investigating the case.

He claims officers brought a "beaten and terrified" young man before the family to make a confession about the theft.

"He tried to tell us that he had stolen our tyres - but the four they brought as evidence were not ours," said Babadjanov.

"We retracted our complaint as we saw that innocent people could suffer as a result. We realised that even though this man had not stolen our tyres, he would still be charged with the crime."

Zakirjon Akhmadaliev, from the Andijan region, told IWPR that after being arrested in December 2000, officers tortured him for 47 days to force a confession for murder.

He alleged that he had been beaten unconscious; had a gas mask placed over his face and the oxygen cut off; electric current applied to his wrists; and had icy water poured over him before being left in an unheated room.

When other people were later found and charged with the crime, Akhmadaliev was accused of theft and sentenced to five years in prison.

Nasim Jabbarov, from the Jizzak region, told IWPR his interrogators threatened to sexually assault him with a bottle if he did not confess to homicide.

"Officers began beating me up and demanded that I admit killing someone...not able to take the beatings and pressure any more I had to confess," he said.

Alimuhammad Mamadaliev was arrested in Margilan in November 2001 on suspicion of membership of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and was found dead in a canal a month later. He had been badly beaten and is thought to have died of his injuries.

(See Uzbekistan: Officers Jailed Over Torture Death, RCA No 125, 21-June-02).

"The brutal torture that detainees speak of underlines one fact - the police need to arrest as many people as possible to show that they are protecting the state," said the dead man's father, Gulomiddin.

"Why do they use torture? Why do they make people confess to crimes they never committed? They steal our sons like rabbits and make 'Hizbuts' and 'terrorists' of them. When is this going to end?"

Mamadaliev's case became famous throughout the country when - in a very rare move - three law enforcement agents were jailed for between five and fifteen years over the crime in June 2002. However, there is little evidence of a widespread change in police attitudes as a result.

When asked why torture is used to extract confessions, Andijan police captain Akram Nuritdinov replied starkly, "Some people understand words, and others need a slap."

Hundreds of people in the Fergana valley have been detained and accused of membership of banned Islamic groups in a crackdown that gained impetus after the February 1999 bomb blasts in capital Tashkent.

The authorities blamed this attack on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, and the incident is widely believed to have boosted demand for mass arrests. The police, public prosecutors' offices, and the National Security Service were given enormous power to investigate and combat so-called extremist groups in the aftermath of the outrage.

In February and March 2000, a high-level political delegation including internal affairs minister Zakirjon Almatov, deputy prime minister Khamidullo Karamatov and the head of the country's Muslim administration Abdurashid Bakhromov visited the Fergana region.

During their stay, the local newspaper, Andijonnoma, quoted Almatov demanding "no mercy to the traitors of the motherland", and the regional deputy governor Masharif Yusupov pledging that "now is the time to move from words to action".

Ikram told IWPR that such rhetoric put further pressure on the police to round up extremists, and that fabrication of cases increased as a result.

These claims have been strenuously denied by the authorities, "No, we never falsify charges against the innocent so we can report a large number of arrests," said Zukhriddin Bobokalonov, of the Tashkent internal affairs office. "We reach our high targets thanks to the efficiency and professionalism of our people."

The Uzbek police currently boast an 80 per cent detection rate, but Bobokalonov believes that there is room for improvement.

"Of course we aim to reach 100 per cent. If a burglar broke into your house, wouldn't you like the police to catch and punish him? That is why we want to solve all crimes - it is our duty."

The overall problem, according to human rights activist Mikhail Ardzinov, is that even 11 years after gaining independence, Uzbekistan's police continue to function under the norms laid down in the Soviet era.

"State interests will always take priority over the interests of individuals. Orders from the top take precedence over the law, " he claimed.

Atanazar Aripov, secretary of the opposition party Erk, asserts that the police are protecting the interests of the current leadership of Uzbekistan, and not its citizens.

"Absolute power is given to the police to control the population, which becomes less happy with government policies with each passing year. A change in the authorities is necessary to bring about improvements in the police service," he said.

Nobody doubts that today's law enforcement bodies face serious challenges, and combating religious extremism is high on the agenda. But analysts believe that the latter is in need of a serious rethink.

Targets and quotas, they say, can actually impede the fight against crime, by focusing attention on quantity rather than quality of police work. Today, it seems, most people fear rather than respect the police.

In a situation where crime fighting is driven by politics rather than the law, there can be no real justice, observers say. For many Uzbek citizens, the Soviet-era children's saying "my police protect me" has a very hollow ring indeed.

This investigation was conducted by IWPR contributors Galima Bukharbaeva and Bahodyr Musaev and Bobomurod Abdullaev in Tashkent; Saidjahon Zainabitdinovand Kulmuhamed Sabirov (pseudonym) in Andijan; Artur Samari in Samarkand; Ulugbek Haydarov in Jizzak; Yadgar Turlibekov in Karshi in October 2002.