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HRW Documents Torture Of Political Prisoners In Uzbekistan

  • RFE/RL

Uzbeks jailed on politically motivated charges are subjected to torture and abysmal prison conditions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The finding of the rights watchdog's 121-page report, "Until The Very End: Politically Motivated Imprisonment In Uzbekistan," released on September 26, are based on court documents and extensive interviews, including with 10 recently released prisoners.

Various accounts of torture -- including beatings, electric shock, simulated suffocation, threats of rape, and sexual humiliation -- are described in the report.

In many cases prison sentences are handed down based on ill-defined or fabricated charges, and can be extended arbitrarily on what HRW Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow describes as "bizarre grounds."

"We were able to document 14 cases out of 44 cases in the report where prisoners had their sentences extended," Swerdlow told RFE/RL.

"And the extensions were for such reasons as improperly peeling carrots in the prison kitchen, failure to remove your shoes, wearing a white shirt, saying your prayers, going to the bathroom without permission."

WATCH: A video feature on the report, produced by HRW:

The researcher singles out the case of Muhammad Bekjanov, whom he describes as the world's longest-imprisoned journalist.

"His case is a perfect example of the many types of human rights violations that the Uzbek government employs in imprisoning its critics," Swerdlow said.

"He was kidnapped and sent to Uzbekistan without any legal process in 1999. He suffered horrific torture during the trial and his case also accurately describes the policy of extending sentences to political prisoners."

The report notes how Abdurasul Khudoynazarov, a rights activist who died of cancer shortly after his release this spring, told rights groups before his death that his requests for medical treatment were repeatedly denied over the course of his eight years in prison.

And in another case, rights activist Azam Farmonov, who has been imprisoned since 2006, alleges that policed forced him into a false confession by beating him on the legs and feet and placing a sealed mask on his head to simulate suffocation.

"The Uzbek government tries to hide the abuses its critics suffer in prison, even their very existence, from the world," Swerdlow said of the findings in a press release.

"This new evidence means Tashkent can no longer pretend that politically motivated imprisonment in Uzbekistan does not exist."

Some of what HRW describes as "Uzbekistan's most talented and remarkable figures" are profiled for the report, including journalists, rights activists, academics, cultural figures, and individuals involved in exposing corruption.

In its press release, HRW calls on Uzbekistan to immediately and unconditionally release everyone imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

It also urges international partners of Uzbekistan to press its president, Islam Karimov, to improve the country's human rights record.

Swerdlow told RFE/RL that "pressure does work," citing the example of Uzbekistan changing its behavior after coming under international criticism for its use of child labor during its annual cotton harvest.

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