Uzbekistan: "Our torturers know that they will never face the law"
The Paris-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), led by Nadejda Atayeva, an émigré activist from Uzbekistan, has released a new report on the grim system of torture and extrajudicial execution in Uzbekistan -- a system in which medical workers have been enlisted to cover up the evidence of abuse.
Titled "Our torturers know that they will never face the law," the gruesome report is based on the eyewitness account of an Andijan Regional Hospital morgue employee who dealt with the victims from the 2005 massacre in the Ferghana Valley city, and also includes testimony from survivors and their relatives.
The eyewitness was arrested after the shooting of demonstrators, detained and tortured for three months, then forced to work in the morgue. He testified that from September 2005 to February 2007, he examined nearly 500 bodies, and found many with gunshot wounds and evidence of torture (Al Jazeera recently broadcast an interview with him.)
The Uzbek Ministry of National Security reportedly ordered morgue staff to conceal the evidence of gunshots or stab wounds and falsify the causes of death. No records were kept.
This account was corroborated by another source, Khusnutdin Kutbitdinov, an independent journalist working for the Uzbek-language service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, who travelled to Andijan a week after the massacre and managed to interview several employees of the Andijan hospital where the majority of the wounded were treated. According to the medical workers, security agents set up a command center in the intensive care unit, where they interrogated anyone who had witnessed the events. Human rights groups have also confirmed this testimony with interviews of other witnesses.
Despite claims to reform the code of criminal procedures and introduction of the institution of habeus corpus, the Uzbek government has not improved its record of torture in pre-trial detention. To file a complaint about torture, a victim has to gather medical evaluations, solicit testimony from witnesses, and request an investigation, but the courts often ignore such testimony, say the report authors.
The AHRCA said the EU and US have muted their criticism of the Uzbek government in recent years due to strategic energy and security concerns, and they hope to spark fresh awareness of the atrocities in Uzbekistan.
The 47-page report documents the testimony of victims and their families as well as medical personnel. Among the most chilling accounts is the story of a man alleged to have been brought seemingly already dead from wounds inflicted by torture, who suddenly started breathing and opened his eyes when an autopsy began. The morgue personnel fled in search of the chief of the morgue, but then were ordered by a Ministry of National Security agent to leave the area. When they returned, they reportedly found the man had died -- with fresh wounds on his body.
The report also supplies the names and ranks of some of the Andijan prison wardens and administrators who are alleged to have been responsible for the practice of torture including beatings of prisoners, forcing them to stand for hours or pouring of cold water on them and exposing them to the cold, as well as sexual abuse.
With the rise in such cruel treatment, prisoners are increasingly being diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses as a result of the trauma in detention.
Not only are suspects tortured, but their relatives are also summoned for interrogation and abused, as one victim described:
I don‘t know what to do. [Crying.] They came to my house and asked me sternly: ―Who gave you the idea to write to the UN? Do you want to see where this will get you?‖ I must also think of the other children. My husband is already in prison, and it‘s up to me to raise these children… [Crying.] [AHRCA interview, October 2010, appellant Sh. E.]
The AHRCA often learns about cases of torture from relatives or anonymous prisoners' letters, which places the informants at great risk:
Even when we can establish the circumstances, find out the victim‘s personal details and get their permission to act as their principal, this doesn‘t always save them. We reported the case of Dzhamoliddin Karimov from the 64/71 penal colony, who lost his mind while being tortured. On May 7 2010, AHRCA released a press-release regarding his case, but Karimov remains in custody and, for the time being, cannot expect amnesty.
One of the prisoners' letters came from Prison Colony No. 64/4, in Chirchik, Tashkent region:
―The prisoners here are forced to smash rocks. This labor is very difficult. There was one man among us who had a broken leg. He couldn‘t fulfil the quota because of the pain in his leg and he was on crutches. When they saw how much pain he was in one of them grabbed his crutch and thrashed his broken leg with it. He screamed as loud as he could. It was impossible to watch. Those beasts rammed a stone in his mouth so that the pain wasn‘t the only thing making it difficult for him to breathe…