Uzbekistan: Officers Jailed Over Torture Death

Justice has been done but doubt remains over Tashkent's willingness to send a clear warning to its security force.

Uzbekistan: Officers Jailed Over Torture Death

Justice has been done but doubt remains over Tashkent's willingness to send a clear warning to its security force.

Three officers of Uzbekistan's National Security Service, NSS, have been jailed for the brutal torture and death of a young man in their custody.

The killing of Alimuhammad Mamadaliev received worldwide media coverage, and some analysts believe that the trial only went ahead to protect the country's international image. The former Soviet state's civil liberties record - described as "appalling" by Human Rights Watch - has been under the spotlight following recent military cooperation with the United States.

This case was only the second in Uzbekistan to result in conviction and punishment of law enforcement officers, and is the first to implicate the NSS, which is regarded as a pillar of Tashkent's political system.

Mamadaliev, who was suspected of being a member of the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was beaten for several hours before he died of his injuries. His corpse was then thrown into a canal and his family told that he had escaped from the police station.

Uzbekistan's military court sentenced Khamidkhoja Saidov, head of the NSS in the Fergana

Oblast city of Margilan, to 15 years imprisonment for "abuse of power". Senior lieutenants Abdushkur Mirzaev and Bobur Fazylov were found guilty of the same offence and received jail terms of 15 years and five years respectively.

Around 50 suspects have died under interrogation in the country over the past three years, according to the Independent Organisation for Human Rights in Uzbekistan. Its chairman Mikhail Ardzinov has welcomed the Mamadaliev judgment and hopes it will signal a move towards justice in the country.

However, the fact that the court was closed to the public gives him less confidence in the ability of the authorities to send a clear message to law enforcement officers - that those who exceed their powers and break the law will be punished.

The investigation into Mamadaliev's death revealed that the 24-year-old father of two from the village of Durmen was detained at 5.30 am on November 4, 2001. Officials had been conducting a search for members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Mamadaliev had been on police files as a suspected recruit since September 1999.

However, he consistently denied being a member of the outlawed group, even when taken to the Margilan NSS regional department and delivered into the hands of Fazylov and Mirzaev. According to evidence produced in court, the duo went to work on him with a truncheon, beating him on the legs, chest and feet.

Mirzaev then put Mamadaliev face down on the floor and began to kick his head. The officers then took a lunch break, ignoring their victim's screams for help as they left.

Mamadaliev's lifeless body was discovered on the floor of the corridor when the officers returned at 1.30 pm. He died as a result of a fractured neck and injuries to the spinal cord caused by heavy blows.

When Saidov was told of the death, he ordered Mirzaev and Fazylov to get rid of the body by dumping it in a canal.

The dead man's father, Gulomiddin Mamadaliev, visited the NSS premises twice on the day his son was arrested. On his first visit at 9 am, officers assured him that his son would be home by lunchtime.

However, when another relative visited the station later, he was told that Mamadaliev had escaped and was "probably already at the military base" of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU.

Gulomiddin Mamadaliev did not believe this story and returned to the NSS. "They told me that Alimuhammad had run away to join the terrorists and had left in a white Tiko car," he told IWPR.

"I did not believe that he could escape from custody and leave the country without a passport or money. He was not a member of any organisation and was not planning to go anywhere."

Gulomiddin Mamadaliev was determined to find out what had happened to his son and began his own investigations.

He heard that a seemingly unconscious person resembling his son was seen being bundled into a white Tiko car. For more than a month, he questioned the owners of similar vehicles, visited local morgues and wrote a string of letters to the Tashkent authorities.

His search turned up no new clues, but he did not give up hope until December 2, 2001, when his son's corpse was discovered in a ditch.

Gulomiddin Mamadaliev is disappointed by the judgment handed down to the guilty men, and plans to appeal against any legal bid to shorten the trio's sentences. "I want this case to be a lesson for all law enforcement officers, so they will stop stealing our sons like rabbits and calling them terrorists," he said.

"They murdered my innocent son. He fed his family with honest work, had exceeded the target for the cotton harvest and was praised by the administrator of the district. And we will never get him back."

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan.

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