Uzbekistan: Police Make Rare Admission of Prison Rapes
In an unusual but indirect acknowledgement of responsibility for torture of prisoners, Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry has admitted that police officers under its supervision beat and raped two women in pre-trial detention, Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, citing Uzbek human rights groups.
Rayhon Soatova, an Uzbek woman arrested in 2009 along with her two sisters and sentenced in 2010 to seven years for assault in a domestic altercation, was raped by as many as a dozen police officers, human rights defenders reported at the time. Later, Soatova gave birth prematurely to a daughter in prison and continued to claim police were responsible.
While an Uzbek prosecutor finally opened an investigation, officials first suspected Rayhon’s male acquaintances and relatives, collecting DNA samples from them and only later law-enforcers. Abdusumat Soatov, Rayhon’s brother, continued to insist on a probe. Ultimately, police said the DNA analysis was “inconclusive” for a trial and charges against 12 policemen were dropped. Yet, say human rights activists, authorities tacitly admitted they were at fault. Rayhon was moved from a labor colony where conditions are stricter, to a work settlement for the remainder of her sentence.
A second case involved Muhayyo Odilova of Kokand, whose father was the former head of the Interior Ministry of Ferghana region, who was arrested on fraud charges. A corrections official first admitted that Odilova was raped by a police officer while in custody. Then during a parliamentary hearing in November, Deputy Interior Minister Abdukarim Shodiev acknowledged that Odilova was raped in 2006 by a police officer, the Human Rights Alliance reported, citing unnamed sources. The hearing was evidently not covered by the state media or confirmed by independent press.
According to the Human Rights Alliance, during the parliamentary hearing Shodiev confirmed that Odilova was both raped and impregnated, and that later police gave her funds for an abortion. She was later released from prison.
In an interview with Radio Ozodlik, Elena Urlaeva, head of the Human Rights Alliance, cautioned that the concessions were minimal, but that she believed the admission came as a result of US intervention during a trip to Tashkent by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as mention of the case in a European Union report on gender rights.
Surat Ikramov, chairman of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, said he believed the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) helped bring the attention of Uzbek officials to the cases. “In many cases, if there is a meeting at the UN or EU and a report from Uzbekistan is expected, then some changes occur in the country, someone is released early; Rayhon Soatova’s situation was also a separate line for the Uzbek delegation’s report [to CAT]," he said.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch recounted the gang-rape of Soatova and her two sisters, and the efforts of they and their brother to seek justice. Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher for Human Rights Watch told EurasiaNet:
"Their willingness to go public, litigate the matter, and continue to speak out to groups like us despite the risks makes this case unique in Uzbekistan and in some sense proves the value of challenging the Uzbek government more openly."