Uzbekistan: Another Trial of Muslim Prisoners, Another Death in Prison
Yet another trial of devout Muslims is under way in Tashkent region, involving 16 Muslims who worshipped outside strict state controls, the independent site uznews.net reports. The men are accused of "creation or leadership of, or participation in an extremist religious, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organization" under Art. 223 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, the usual charge against such believers.
Sukrat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists in Uzbekistan, says the number of such cases in increasing with every year, uznews.net reported. The suspects are all tried behind closed doors.
Elena Urlaeva of the Human Rights Alliance, who is herself trying to fend off government harassment reports this week the story of Tamara Mirkarimova, the mother of Mirrafik Mirkarimov, who says that her son was beaten to death in prison. She says other prisoners are being tortured to death in the prison as well.
In March 2011, when she came to visit her son in prison, Mirkarimova learned that he had been brutally beaten, and she was not allowed to see him -- he had been thrown in a punishment cell. She was told to return in two weeks, and then later found he still had bruises on his body. In May, her son was moved to a prison hospital in Tashkent, and she brought him medicine, and took some letters from him. In one letter he asked to transmit an appeal from prisoners about beatings in prison which was addressed to an official whose job involved oversight of prison conditions. The official promised Mirkarimova that he would investigate her son's beating, but then he later refused to meet with her.
Then in July, she learned that her son had died. When his coffin was brought to her, she saw that his body was emaciated, and his legs were bruised. Mirkarimova learned that two months before her son's death, when he was in the hospital, another man with the first name Sabir had hanged himself. Sabir used to leave the hospital in a Nexia. Supposedly Sabir and Mirkarimov's son were recruited to work for the National Security Service (SNB) -- and then later killed.
The murky story brought to mind the sensational revelations made by a now deceased former prisoner, Alexander Rakhmanov, who said he was recruited by the SNB. Last week fergananews.com released videos made in 2006 by Rakhmanov, who said he had participated in a death squad responsible for torturing and murdering hundreds of prisoners. The task is to see if any of the cases of hidden torture and murder he described match up with cases of disappeared persons known to human rights defenders and relatives.
Readers have debated hotly whether to believe the story, or whether to consider Rakhmanov a double agent, although his story seems plausible to some human rights activists. One reader pointed out that Rakhmanov doesn't seem to provide any names of people he was said to have murdered, nor names of others in the death squad (although he does name some officials supposedly giving orders, including the former Interior Minister, who in fact was fired before the revelations came out).
Another reader who has watched all the videos (there are at least four, they are lengthy and the sound quality is poor in a lot of places) says that in fact Rakhmanov named at least two persons in his testimony, one of whom was Korean. (A transcript of some of the video is contained in an article in the Kazakh newspaper Megapolis from 2006, but it doesn't contain prisoners' names.)
So there's a job to be done to sort through Rakhmanov's testimony to see if it can be corroborated -- but the few human rights groups still active in Uzbekistan likely have their hands full with the new cases that just keep coming...