Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Uzbekistan: Andijan Residents “Tortured”
Residents of Andijan say they’ve been treated brutally by Uzbek officials while being detained for questioning about last month’s uprising in the city.
The May 13 protest, which was initiated by supporters of 23 businessmen accused of Islamic radicalism, was violently quashed when government troops opened fire on demonstrators. Hundreds of people are said to have died in the crackdown.
Human rights activists in Uzbekistan now claim that investigators from the Uzbek interior ministry in Tashkent and the Andijan police department are guilty of mass violations of the rights of those arrested for questioning - including the torture and rape of detainees.
The Uzbek authorities have refused an international investigation into the protest, preferring to launch their own inquiry. The outcome of this is expected to follow the official line from Moscow and Tashkent, which has consistently been that the uprising was the work of international extremist groups from Chechnya and Afghanistan aided by local militant Islamists.
Several thousand Andijan citizens have already been questioned about their possible involvement in the events, according to rights activists. Those arrested are usually kept in detention centres for between seven and 15 days, but a few have now been in custody for more than a month, they say.
The majority of the detainees are said to be men aged between 18 and 60, but there are also some in their seventies and eighties.
It is believed that a number of people whose family members are wanted in connection with the Andijan incidents have been arrested in order to pressure the suspects into coming forward.
IWPR reporters have spoken to a number of former detainees who claim that they along with scores of others have been treated brutally by the authorities while being interrogated about the unrest.
One young man claims he was tortured by police until he agreed to write a confession that he was an Islamic radical.
“Under torture, I was forced to write everything they demanded, but in fact I didn’t take part in [the protests]. They simply said that if I confessed, I would be released,” he said.
Describing the abuses he and others suffered in detention, the he told IWPR that suspects’ heels were beaten with rubber truncheons, needles inserted into their gums, under their fingernails or used on nerve endings.
“I saw one person who was striped like a zebra from the number of truncheon blows,” he said. “He took off his shirt and I saw that his entire body was blue and red.
“When the suspect cannot take the pain from the torture and beatings and loses consciousness, the police bring him round themselves. Doctors are only called in extreme cases, as they do not want to have extra witnesses.”
Another young former detainee said that men were being sexually abused. “A friend of mine who works in the Andijan police force said that many of the suspects were sexually assaulted with a truncheon,” he said.
One man who claims to have been beaten in custody told IWPR that he managed to escape further abuse by bribing the police into letting him go.
“Two of my friends and I were tortured for a long time with various methods,” he said. “ We persuaded the investigator to set us free for a bribe. We paid 200 dollars each. After a few days in prison, we had realised that there is nothing more valuable than freedom.”
A police officer from Andijan who agreed to speak to IWPR admitted that he found it painful and frightening watching people being tortured. He said that he had witnessed an old schoolmate being threatened that if he didn’t admit his involvement in the protest, both he and his wife would be sexually assaulted.
Most of the people arrested so far are residents of Andijan, but a few are from the neighbouring Osh and Jalalabad regions of Kyrgyzstan, who were in Andijan at the time of the unrest. There are also reports that from June 10, women were arrested and interrogated but usually sent home soon after questioning.
Even those who have fled Andijan to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan are not safe from the Uzbek authorities. The National Security Service, NSS, is said to exert pressure on refugees’ relatives still Uzbekistan, forcing them to go to Kyrgyzstan to bring their family members back.
The head of one makhallya (a neighbourhood authority) in Andijan said that the Uzbek authorities constantly ask makhallya heads and families of people who’ve fled across the border to persuade them to return by any means, assuring them that they will not be persecuted when they get home.
“There are two refugees from our makhallya,” the man told IWPR. “They don’t want to listen to their parents, and say categorically that they will never return to this area.”
Swedish journalist Ellin Jonsson says she was at a refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan when relatives from Uzbekistan tried to force their family members to return. “I saw one poor woman crying and writhing around on the ground,” she said. “With tears in her eyes, she begged her parents not to make her go back.”
Jonsson also said that Kyrgyz locals come to the camp to try to pressure the refugees. Only last week between 80 and 100 Kyrgyz broke into the camp, beating up the deputy head of the camp on the way there.
“The Kyrgyz held a brief meeting and demanded that the Uzbek refugees should leave Kyrgyzstan immediately, threatening that otherwise things would get worse for them,” said Jonsson. “In the end, they said that unless the refugees left within three days, armed horsemen would deal with them.”
The refugees believe that the Uzbek NSS is provoking Kyrgyz residents into conflict with the refugees. One elderly refugee claimed to recognise an officer from the Andijan NSS among the crowd of angry Kyrgyz.
Journalists in Kyrgyzstan believe that Tashkent is determined to bring the refugees back, even though they are under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
On June 16, 20 Uzbek buses from Andijan tried to cross into the Suzak region of Kyrgyzstan where the refugee camps are located, but the Kyrgyz authorities refused them entry.
The Uzbek refugees, who do not want to return under any circumstances, dismiss the Tashkent’s assurances that they will not face persecution.
One young refugee said she’d got into a fight with a makhallya member from Andijan who was trying to persuade her to go back.
“A woman from the makhallya committee wanted to take me home by force. But I know that if we return, we can only expect repression from President Karimov. He won’t just leave us alone,” she said.
“We will be tortured and tormented, and we may be raped. It’s better to die here. We’re not going back.”
Anvar Makhkamov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Uzbekistan.
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