Uzbekistan: Watchdog Urges West to Pressure “Torture-Tainted Ally”
Torture is “a defining feature” of Uzbekistan’s criminal justice system, routinely employed by the security forces not only to extract confessions but also to extort bribes, a new report by an international human rights watchdog finds.
Torture “is central to how the Uzbekistani authorities deal with dissent, combat security threats and maintain their grip on power,” says the study by Amnesty International, published on April 15.
The watchdog accuses the international community of turning a “blind eye” to “endemic” torture in order to protect its strategic interests with a “perceived geo-strategic ally.” (Tashkent has supported the “war on terror” and the US-led coalition in neighboring Afghanistan.)
“The attitude of Uzbekistan’s international partners to the routine use of torture appears at best ambivalent, and at worst silent to the point of complicity,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement. “As long as Uzbekistan uses torture-tainted evidence in court, it will remain a torture-tainted ally.”
The report, based on over 60 interviews with victims and relatives, details a range of gruesome torture methods, from beatings; asphyxiation; rape; and sexual assault to psychological torment; food, water, and sleep deprivation; exposure to extreme temperatures; and electric shocks.
“They beat me everywhere, on my head, kidneys…When I lost consciousness they would throw water on me to wake me up and beat me again,” one victim recalled. “They beat me bloody. The first time I came to they must have suspended me from above because I couldn’t bend. The second time I came to they put me on a chair and put a cellophane bag on my head, suffocated me and beat me and I lost consciousness.”
Another victim, Turkish businessman Vahit Gunes, described witnessing officers break bones with baseball bats and hearing “people scream as if they were being attacked by wolves.”
The administration of President Islam Karimov vehemently denies allegations of “systematic torture” in its prisons, described by Akmal Saidov, director of Uzbekistan’s National Human Rights Center, as “an antiquated, hackneyed expression that has long been thrown in our faces” in an outburst at the United Nations in 2013.
In 2002, a visiting UN rapporteur found evidence of “systematic torture” in Uzbekistan’s jails. Tashkent has since denied access to all UN experts who have requested permission to visit.
Torture is illegal in Uzbekistan, but “the authorities have shown a complete lack of political will to apply legal safeguards in practice,” Amnesty International said. “As a result, torture, and impunity for torture, remain pervasive.”
The report called on Karimov to personally condemn torture and his administration to take meaningful steps to eradicate it, including allowing access to a UN rapporteur on torture.
It also urged the international community to pressure Tashkent to end torture, and provide support to help it do so.
“What is shameful is that many governments, including the USA, are turning a blind eye to appalling torture, seemingly for fear of upsetting an ally in the ‘war on terror’,” said Dalhuisen.