Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Uzbek Prison Abuses Cause Psychological Damage
Rights campaigners in Uzbekistan say torture and other forms of physical abuse remain commonplace in the country’s prison system, leading to high rates of psychological disturbance among victims.
According to the Human Rights in Central Asia Association, based in France, “More and more people are suffering psychological disorders in prisons in Uzbekistan. They receive no medical assistance, and information about them is completely blacked out.”
Relatives of prison inmates are often reluctant to speak out for fear of making life worse for the victims.
The sister of a man serving 18 years for attempting to overthrow the system – an offence commonly applied to suspected Islamic radicals – described how his experiences transformed him.
She said that after her brother was moved from a prison in Navoi to the notoriously harsh Jaslik facility in the north of the country, he was beaten up by prison warders who broke both his arms.
He did not receive treatment until months later, when he underwent an operation without anaesthetic. This appears to have triggered a severe deterioration in his mental stability.
“He became aggressive and completely intractable,” said his sister. “These seizures stop only when his cellmates beat him up for stopping them sleeping; the guards also beat him.”
A man who says his sister is serving a sentence for a robbery she did not commit recounted how she too had clearly suffered from the experience.
“In the year she has spent in jail, she has turned from a young girl into an old woman. She is obviously psychologically disturbed; she doesn’t always recognise me,” she said. “They rarely allow visits, and [when they do] I often see that she’s been beaten.”
He said he would never ask for an investigation into what was happening, as the result was likely to be that “she wouldn’t be seen alive again”.
Nadezhda Ataeva, head of the Paris-based Human Rights in Central Asia group, reports that Murad Joraev, a former member of parliament who has been imprisoned since 1995, is in a poor state. Joraev among those convicted in a trial of members of the opposition party Erk, who were accused of arranging military training for young Uzbeks in Turkey for an alleged coup attempt.
“The wife of political prisoner Murad Joraev, who is developing a psychological illness as a result of torture in prison, asks me whether I think she would be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence in his place. The woman can no longer endure what they’re doing to her husband,” Ataeva said.
The use of torture in Uzbekistan’s pre-trial detention facilities and the penitentiary system has been widely documented over many years.
After hearing submissions from the Uzbek government and from rights groups in March, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a set of damning findings on the country’s human rights record.
In particular, it urged the government of Uzbekistan to take stronger measures to put an end to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, to monitor, investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute and punish all perpetrators of acts of ill-treatment”, to “make sure that an inquiry is conducted by an independent body in each case of alleged torture”; and to compensate the victims of torture and ill-treatment.
As things stood, the UN body said it “notes with concern the continued reported occurrence of torture and ill-treatment, the limited number of convictions of those responsible, and the low sanctions generally imposed, including simple disciplinary measures, as well as indications that individuals responsible for such acts were amnestied, and, in general, the inadequate or insufficient nature of investigations on torture/ill-treatment allegations. It is also concerned about reports on the use, by courts, of evidence obtained under coercion.”
Presenting the government’s position at the March hearing, Uzbek officials alternated between painting a glowing picture of human rights observance and voicing their resentment at international criticisms.
Akmal Saidov, head of the National Human Rights Centre, responded to questions about torture by saying, “We are an Asian country, a Muslim country. We will never be a European country.”
Saidov said reports by human rights groups should be treated with caution as “they are politically engaged” and “they pick up on isolated cases and used them to describe the situation as a whole”.
Deputy interior minister Abdukarim Shodiev said the penal system was transparent, with “independent monitoring and parliamentary oversight”.
The deputy chairman of the Supreme Court, Sherali Rahmonov, cited a 2004 law banning the use of evidence obtained through torture, saying courts were supposed to order an investigation if allegations were made that this had happened.
Legal experts and human rights defenders reject claims that torture occurs only as an exception and that victims can seek redress.
One Tashkent lawyer, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said torture was used to obtain confessions in 90 per cent of court cases that could be classed as “political” or involved human rights defenders.
Far from making the penal system transparent, the authorities do everything possible to prevent information about abuses leaking out, according to Vasila Inoyatova of the human rights group Ezgulik.
When her organisation sought permission for doctors to visit inmates believed to be suffering mental illness, she said, they were always turned down, with the answer “the prisoner is healthy”.
(Some names have been withheld to protect interviewees from possible repercussions.)
This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
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