Abdurakhmon Tashanov of the Tashkent-based Ezgulik (Goodness) human rights center told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently that his organization has "information about the existence of special torture cells that are extremely cold and in which the guards and interrogators put cold water on the floors to increase the suffering of the inmates."
Tashanov said he was skeptical of a new law that is supposed to regulate treatment in pre-trial detention in Uzbekistan.
Dictator Islam Karimov has become infamous for "boiling his opponents." The claim is actually based on documentation of two deaths in custody by Human Rights Watch, where prison wardens evidently poured boiling water on convicts.
During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Uzbekistan, a reporter queried a senior State Department official at a briefing on October 22 as to whether this practice continued.
"That’s a thing of the past," the State Department official said confidently.
Well, as Susan Corke, Senior Program Manager for Eurasia at Freedom House put it in a recent blog post, "The fact that this question needed to be asked is a worrisome sign for U.S. moral authority."
The Uzbek regime’s use of boiling and other torture techniques has been well documented, and it is hardly a “thing of the past,” as the State Department official asserted at the briefing. The State Department’s own human rights report on Uzbekistan for 2010 noted that “torture and abuse were common” and cited allegations involving a range of sadistic methods: “Guards routinely raped the prisoners with a club, subjected prisoners to enemas with red pepper solutions, and beat their heels until they bled.”
While Clinton called for greater political freedom and full rights for women and religious and ethnic minorities, her remarks were censored by the Uzbek media, says Corke. And as we noted, her meeting with civil society representatives was -- underwhelming.
Mindful of the "Arab Spring," the US should take greater care not to legitimize dictators with trips like these, says Corke. US officials should demand more human rights concesssions, and solicit civil society's input more, she adds.
To be sure, one political prisoner, Norboy Kholjigitov, 56, was released not long before Clinton's arrival, but he had already served 6 out of the 10 years of his sentence, and was in such bad shape he was hospitalized.
And the atrocious practices continue. Recently the Expert Working Group (EWG) in Tashkent published an appeal from the relatives of Dilshod Shohidov, a prisoner in the high-security prison no. 64/46 in Navoi, where torture continues to be reported. Shohidov is serving 8 years on charges of distribution of extremist literature and theft.
Shohidov told his parents that he had suffered so much brutality that he had considered suicide, but was held back by his Muslim beliefs. The method used on Shohidov is common throughout the penitentiary system -- the prison administrators deliberately put hardened criminals into his cell and incited them to beat and attempt to rape him.
Shohidov was handcuffed and bound to a stake in the floor of his cell, and subject to beatings by the cell-mates, and then occasionally prison wardens joined in with their truncheons, say his parents. As they write in their appeal:
We were also told that during winter months Dilshod Shohidov was handcuffed and forced to stay in his cell naked for several days. His body, back, arms and legs still have marks of torture and handcuffs. In April of this year Dilshod went on hunger strike as a protest to ongoing torture. On the ninth day of the hunger strike the prison authorities decided to intervene and forcibly stop the hunger strike. The prison wardens force-fed Dilshod and as a result they have seriously injured his mouth.
The elderly couple are hoping that their son will be transferred to a prison in Tashkent where they would be able to visit him more frequently.
Sadly, his parents say they have been aware that their son was tortured from the very first days of his imprisonment.
"But we have never decided before to make public the facts of torture against our son – partly because of fear that it might make his life in prison even worse, and partly because we believed that we could succeed in stopping torture against our son through addressing existing mechanisms for remedy in Uzbekistan," they said.