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Uzbekistan: Family Says Jailed Poet, Sons Are Being Tortured

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

Yusuf Juma (Courtesy Photo) Family members say an outspoken critic of the Uzbek government and his two sons have been tortured physically and psychologically in the months since they were jailed for a range of minor offenses.


A trial for alleged battery, use of insulting language, and resisting arrest opened on April 8 against Yusuf Juma and his 25-year-old son, Bobur, before the court quickly adjourned the proceedings to next week.


The two men were arrested in December after staging a protest in their native city of Bukhara against Uzbek President Islam Karimov


Speaking by telephone from undisclosed locations in connection with that hearing, Juma's fugitive wife and a third son told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that their jailed family members have been "tortured," including being forced to watch the other sibling being beaten.


Juma, his son Bobur, and other family members conducted a "picket on wheels" in their hometown of Bukhara ahead of the December presidential election to call for a boycott and the resignation of Karimov, who won a controversial new term that appears to violate a constitutional ban on third terms.


Juma drove a vehicle around Bukhara displaying a banner that urged, "Dictator Karimov: Resign and Leave."


Juma also wrote a letter to the Uzbek Constitutional Court accusing Karimov of violating the constitution by seeking the third term and calling for his prosecution.


The preelection stir was not the first time that Juma has protested government actions. He is a well-known government critic and has written poems and articles criticizing Karimov and Uzbek authorities in the past.


Those efforts -- including a poem calling for Uzbeks to cast off the shackles of "slavery" -- landed him in prison in 2001. His 10-year-jail sentence was reduced under international pressure.


Now, Juma and his sons Bobur, 25, and Mashrab, 22, are all in jail.


Mashrab is serving a prison term for hooliganism. Family members and Uzbek human rights activists claim the charges were trumped up in an attempt to silence Juma.


Juma and Bobur face charges of using insulting language, battery, and resisting arrest.


The poet's lawyer, Ruhiddin Komilov, told RFE/RL that the hearing in a Bukhara regional court was quickly adjourned on April 8 "because Juma has not received material related to the case and the indictment."


The lawyer says Juma and his son face up to five years in prison if found guilty.


The poet's wife and three other children fled Uzbekistan following the arrest of the two men in mid-December. His wife, Gulnora -- who also participated in the December protest -- is reportedly sought for what the Uzbek authorities said were anticonstitutional activities.


Speaking to RFE/RL from an undisclosed location outside of Uzbekistan, Gulnora Juma said she fears for her husband's life.


"It's been almost five months that he's been in jail," she said. "Only twice was he taken to see a doctor after he complained about his heart. Otherwise, he has been in a single cell under strong psychological and physical pressure. People who saw him did not recognize him. He might die if he is not released [soon]."


She added that her two sons have also been abused in prison, according to relatives' who have been allowed to visit them.


"Both my sons were brought to the same prison cell and tortured there in front of each other -- one is being beaten up after the other," she said. "On top of that, they also endure strong psychological pressure. Our relatives have phoned us from Qorakol [a district of Bukhara] and told us this."


Juma's eldest son, Alisher, who also spoke to RFE/RL from an undisclosed location, expressed concern over the fate of his father and brothers.


"Our family has always fought against the Karimov regime. We intensified our fight before [the December 23 presidential] election. Now I don't know what to do," Alisher said. "Karimov considers my father a personal enemy and he is likely to imprison my father. But because [Karimov] is trying to improve relations with the European Union and America, he also may order the release of my father. Who knows?"


He suggested that authorities will ensure that "even if [Karimov] releases my father and brother, Bobur, he is likely to keep my brother Mashrab in his 'concentration camp' as leverage [against my father]."


The opening of Yusuf Juma and Bobur's trial took place one day before the start of a meeting between the EU "troika" and five Central Asian foreign ministers in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.


London-based Amnesty International on April 9 called on the EU to fully implement the human rights aspects of the bloc's Central Asia strategy, adopted in June. The group warned that there has been a "signal failure" by both sides to pursue the implementation of the strategy's human-rights elements.


One day earlier, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had urged the EU to establish human rights benchmarks for Central Asian governments and "make their fulfillment a core objective of its Central Asia Strategy."


HRW said the EU should redouble efforts to secure the release of all human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned in Uzbekistan and end the harassment of civil-society activists.


Andrea Berg, HRW's Central Asia researcher, says the EU should reinstate sanctions it imposed on official Tashkent following the 2005 bloodshed in Andijon, where hundreds of unarmed protesters are thought to have been gunned down by government troops.


"The sanctions should be reinstated until Uzbekistan fulfills all recommendations set by the European Union," Berg says.


The EU is scheduled to review its sanctions policy toward Uzbekistan later this month. In October, Brussels suspended some of the sanctions that had in place for over a year.


RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report

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