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HRW Says Kyrgyz Authorities Target Uzbeks With Arbitrary Arrests, Torture

Kyrgyz police were deployed in a school in Osh on June 21.
Kyrgyz police were deployed in a school in Osh on June 21.
By RFE/RL
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report that the continued arbitrary arrests of ethnic Uzbeks and their mistreatment in police custody in the Kyrgyz city of Osh could further destabilize the region.

Southern Kyrgyzstan was the site of bloody ethnic clashes last month that left at least 309 people dead and forced 400,000 others from their homes.

Anna Neistat, an HRW researcher who is currently in Osh, told RFE/RL by telephone that "massive security operations" were being conducted in different city neighborhoods, during which Kyrgyz security forces were detaining people. Neistat said ethnic Uzbeks were being "disproportionately targeted" in such operations.

"This is not to say that there are no Kyrgyz in detention; the authorities claim that there are at least some, but the information we are getting strongly suggest that the vast majority are ethnic Uzbeks," Neistat said.

Neistat said HRW was also especially concerned about raids being conducted outside the normal legal channels. "We're also talking about arbitrary arrests," she said. Some operations, she said, "are being conducted outside of any kind of legal framework, with the security forces not introducing themselves, not explaining the reason for detention, not providing the relatives with any information about where these people are being taken."

HRW warns that such violations undermine efforts to determine the cause of the interethnic violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, and could further increase tensions. The organization is calling for international police forces to be sent to the region and for an international investigation to be opened. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which HRW has previously suggested should deploy a police mission in southern Kyrgyzstan, is meeting on June 16-17 in Kazakhstan for an informal summit.

HRW says it has documented more than 30 individual cases in which detainees have been mistreated and tortured.

Neistat said information was obtained directly from victims, and also from their relatives and lawyers who had seen them in custody.

Severe Beatings

Some recently released victims told HRW that they were severely beaten and subjected to torture while in custody, including asphyxiation and burning with cigarette stubs by police officers.

At least two detainees, who were held in the city police's temporary detention facility for several days, reported seeing dozens of other detainees being brutally beaten in the interrogation room, the corridor, and the inner courtyard.

The main methods of ill-treatment used by the interrogators appear to be prolonged, severe beatings with rubber batons or rifle butts, punching, and kicking, says the HRW report.

"In at least two cases, the victims reported being tortured by suffocation with gas masks put on their heads and the flow of air cut off until they lost consciousness. One detainee reported being burned with cigarettes, also a form of torture," the report states.

Oibek, a 25-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Osh, who did not want to give his full name, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that he was arrested by local police officers last week.

"We were severely beaten in detention," he said. "They would even break detainees' hands." Oibek said he was set free after his relatives paid a bribe to police officers.

HRW says in cases documented by its researchers, the detainees were taken to the Osh city police department, the Osh province police department, the local police station, and the National Security Services.

HRW called on Kyrgyz authorities to take urgent steps to stop the arbitrary arrests and torture, saying it could lead to more ethnic tensions and mistrust.

Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Melis Turganbaev denied HRW's claims, saying such reports make "the situation worse."

"We are holding [reconciliation meetings] in mosques and in the village administration offices, gathering the elders together," Turganbaev said. "They are telling us to stop these [accusations], to stop this kind of untrue information. They are making the two ethnic groups angry."

He continued: "Some of them read such information and then get angry, saying that 'more from our side were killed' or 'fewer were killed,' and so on. They are making the situation worse. If you find the facts, please...write them in an objective way."

Toktoim Umetaliea, a Kyrgyz human rights activist, confirms that arbitrary arrests and torture do take place in southern Kyrgyzstan. However, the rights activist insists that the victims include both ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

written by Farangis Najibullah with material from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz and Uzbek services

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