Supporters of a lawyer and activist sentenced to a lengthy term in prison in Uzbekistan earlier this year over a purported separatist plot say he is being mistreated in prison and have pleaded for the president to intervene.
Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov’s lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said this week that his client has in recent weeks been subjected to both mental and physical abuse at a prison in the Zangiota district, which lies outside the capital, Tashkent. Tazhimuratov received a 16-year sentence in January, but was only transferred to the Zangiota prison at the start of April.
The prison in Zangiota was built a few years ago to replace a notorious facility called Tashtyurma, a name that remains commonly used.
In a video appeal recorded after visiting the prison on April 18, Mayorov said Tazhimuratov, 44, should be designated a political prisoner and called on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to intercede.
“It seems the order has been given by the authorities to create unbearable conditions for him in his cell,” Mayorov said. “They gave him an old, tattered mattress without cotton wool. They gave him a filthy pillow and terrible sheets. And all this is being done pointedly so as to humiliate and insult him.”
Tazhimuratov is currently in the process of mounting an appeal with the Supreme Court. Mayorov alleges that his client was bound and beaten by prison escorts while being delivered to the Supreme Court to acquaint himself with case files.
“The same beatings happened in the cell only because he refused to take illegal actions,” Mayorov said. “They make him do the cleaning. He doesn’t refuse to clean the cell, but they don’t give him a broom, a rag, a bucket. They don’t give him anything.”
Tazhimuratov’s younger brother, Renat, has also claimed abuse. He told Eurasianet that the last time he saw his brother was at an interim holding facility in Bukhara in late March and that his mood was still upbeat at the time.
“But he was angry as never before [when Mayorov visited him] because of the mistreatment he got from prison officials in Tashtyurma. They are making a mockery of him,” he said.
Renat Tazhimuratov, who is also acting as a legal representative for his brother, says he had been due for a meeting in the prison on April 19, but that officials cancelled the encounter at the last moment on a technicality.
No date has yet been set for an appeal heating, but the Tazhimuratov family is not hopeful of securing a positive outcome.
“Dauletmurat is sure that the court will reject the appeal,” Renat Tazhimuratov said.
Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov was the lead defendant in a trial in January against a large group of people accused of either whipping up or participating in unrest in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan last July. Thousands had emerged onto the streets in a highly rare show of mass dissent when it emerged that the government was planning constitutional reforms that stood to dilute Karakalpak autonomy. At least 21 people are known to have been killed after law enforcement used what some activists have described as disproportionate force to suppress the mass gatherings.
All 22 people that went on trial in January were found guilty, although a few were permitted to leave jail under certain conditions. But Tazhimuratov was identified as ringleader and handed the harshest sentence. He was the only defendant to refuse to plead guilt.
During the trial, Tazhimuratov testified that he was beaten on multiple occasions by law enforcement in the early days of detention. Human Rights Watch later urged the Uzbek government to address Tazhimuratov’s allegations and investigate the heavy-handed response to the protests by security forces.
No law enforcement officers are known to have been prosecuted for misconduct during their suppression of the unrest. In February, the General Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement on the arrest of three police officers during investigations into the use of excessive force, but no updates have been provided since.