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Uzbekistan: 'Mentally Ill' Man Faces Execution

Authorities refuse to allow psychiatric tests on death-row convict despite disturbed behaviour.
By Galima Bukharbaeva

It is not clear when Abror Isaev will be shot. It could be weeks, or months. But there is little chance he will escape execution even though doctors have certified him as mentally ill.

Isaev, who is now 19, had a mental breakdown after a suicide attempt while on death row earlier this year. Now he does not speak or recognise people, and cannot eat properly. He constantly cries, and only calms down when his cellmate rocks him in his arms.

Doctors at Tashkent prison examined him in May and diagnosed him with mental health problems which left him unable to speak. An official document signed by the head of Tashkent prison Erkin Kamilov said the inmate should be moved to a hospital and given medical assistance.

But this document does not alter Isaev's position. The only way he can be moved off death row is if a court orders psychiatric testing. And the authorities are adamant that they will not allow this. A second test might overturn the conclusions of the psychiatric examination conducted before Isaev went on trial. As long as that document stands, he is sane enough - in the eyes of the law - to face execution.

Isaev was sentenced to death in December 2002 for the double murder of two relatives. There are questions about how secure the conviction was. And according to Tamara Chikunova, head of the group Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, there were mitigating circumstances which would have made the alternative, a long prison sentence, more appropriate.

There are concerns that Isaev may have confessed to the murder under duress. According to his mother, Umsinoy Isaeva, her son was not involved in the crime, but she took him to the police to give evidence about what he had heard about it. But he was then detained and - according to his mother - subjected to torture.

"During the [police] investigation, they put Abror in a state of extreme psychological stress," said Chikunova. "He tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists, and it was only by chance that prison escort officers saw him in a pool of blood."

Isaev's confession formed the basis of his conviction, although the children of the two victims testified in court that he was not guilty. His sister, her common-law husband and his brother were convicted of the same crime. The husband was sentenced to death and the other two received long sentences.

But Isaev's family have given up hope of fighting the conviction since the courts have turned down their appeal for clemency, and all they want is for Isaev to be given proper medical treatment.

According to Umsinoy Isaeva, even the prison warders now tell her that her son needs to be in hospital. But the supreme court has not ruled on whether it will issue the order required to make this happen, telling her only that "the case is being studied". And when she appealed to President Islam Karimov, she received a letter from the interior ministry saying, "Abror Isaev is under observation by medical staff at the institution [Tashkent prison] and is receiving out-patient treatment."

The first deputy head of the ministry's penal affairs department, Abdukarim Shodiev, told IWPR that there is no need for a psychiatric examination, since the tests conducted in July 2002 declared him to be of sound mind.

Chikunova disputes the notion that mental health care can be offered on Tashkent's death row, "Out-patient treatment has meant that Abror Isaev is simply dying. His behaviour resembles that of a one-year-old child, he has not talked for five months. He cries, and when he is held in a person's arms, he calms down." He also fails to recognise or understand his lawyer.

"Why can't someone who has lost his mind undergo further comprehensive psychiatric testing, and be placed in a psychiatric hospital?" asked Chikunova.

"He doesn't recognise me," said Umsinoy, wiping the tears from her eyes after visiting her son. "Abror attached an empty cartridge from a ball-point pen to a thread, and he plays with it. When people tried to take the toy away from him, he cried like a small child."

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan.

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