Amnesty International is accusing the Uzbek government of widespread human rights violations in its application of the death sentence. The U.K.-based human rights watchdog says it is "irresponsible" to apply the death penalty in such a flawed justice system. Mothers of executed men testify against a malicious system that causes great suffering for the families of those condemned to death.
Prague, 19 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iskandar Khudoberganov was sentenced to death last year for his involvement in the deadly 1999 bombings in Tashkent.
In a letter smuggled from prison, Khudoberganov says his confession was extracted under torture in the basement of the Interior Ministry. In the letter, he says: "They hit my head against the wall until it was bleeding. They did not let me sleep. For weeks, they did not give me food." He says they threatened to rape his mother, sister, and wife while he watched.
The Uzbek Supreme Court turned down Khudoberganov's appeal against his sentence in April. He is on death row and could be executed at any time.
Khudoberganov's case is highlighted in a report released yesterday by Amnesty International, the human-rights watchdog. Titled "Justice Only in Heaven: The Death Penalty in Uzbekistan," it documents abuses associated with the use of capital punishment.
Anna Sunder-Plassmann is a researcher on Central Asia at Amnesty International in London. She says Uzbekistan's flawed criminal justice system provides fertile ground for miscarriages of justice and wrongful executions due to judicial error or grossly unfair trials.
"The scope for judicial error in death penalty cases is immense. The criminal justice system is seriously flawed," she said. "Torture is systematic. Corruption in many of the death penalty cases is notorious. Death penalty cases are the most fatal consequences of the flawed criminal-justice system in Uzbekistan."
It is difficult to obtain exact figures on the number of executions in Uzbekistan, which are reportedly carried out mostly by shooting. Amnesty has recorded several dozen death sentences and executions per year. Some activists inside Uzbekistan believe there may be as many as 200 to 400 executions per year, however.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in an address to parliament in August 2001, said the country's criminal policy on the application of the death penalty "is fully in keeping with world processes and consistently reflects the principle of humanism embedded in the Constitution of Uzbekistan and the traditions of our people that have at all times treated a human being and his life as the greatest treasure given by the Almighty."
The Amnesty report contradicts such claims. The report says prisoners held on Uzbekistan's death row are confined in small cells usually occupied by two prisoners sleeping on wooden bunks. Health care is poor. Food is insufficient and of poor quality. Families are not allowed to deliver their own food to loved ones. Correspondence is strictly censored.
Abror Isayev is on death row in Tashkent. He was sentenced in December 2002 after being convicted for his role in two murders. His mother says he is losing his mind while in prison: "[When I recently visited him,] he wasn't able to see anything. I was telling him, 'Abror, I came to see you.' [But] he couldn't even recognize me. He was making tiny steps when he was walking. And people in the prison told me, 'Your son has serious health problems. We feed him through injections. If we didn't do it, he would die.'"
Sunder-Plassmann says the secrecy surrounding the death penalty in Uzbekistan, the arbitrary application of such sentences, and the general lack of transparency in the criminal justice system lead to "immense" suffering for families.
The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, describes the treatment of family members in Uzbekistan as "malicious and amounting to cruel and inhuman treatment."
Family members do not know when their relatives will be executed.
Shavkia Tulaganova is the mother of Refat, an Uzbek prisoner who was executed earlier this year for murder. She says she only learned the fate of her son after she went to visit him and discovered that he had been put to death three weeks earlier: "On June 25, I went to prison to visit my son, and they told me that according to the procedure I had to go to the city court for that. At the city court, they told me that they had no information about my son. Then I questioned about the rumors according to which my son had already been executed, and they told me that my son had been executed on June 5. After the father of my son learned his son had been executed, he hung himself."
Families are not given the bodies of executed prisoners for burial and are not told where graves are located.
Tamara Chikunova is director of the local nongovernmental organization Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture. She is still searching for the grave of her son Dmitry, who was executed in 2000 for murder.
"After I received the death certificate, I came to the head of the Tashkent prison and asked him where my son was buried, where I could go, and if they could give me the body for burial," she said. "But they told me that, according to the Uzbek law, the corpse is not given for burial. They haven't even given his belongings to me. So more than three years after, I am still searching for his grave."
Sunder-Plassmann says the relatives of those accused are also sometimes targeted by the authorities. She cites reports of torture, beatings, and rape of family members in order to force defendants to confess or to extract information about the whereabouts of a defendant.
Local human-rights activists also face harassment and intimidation.
Sunder-Plassmann acknowledges the Uzbek government has responded to some of the concerns raised by local human rights activists and the international community. In the past three years, at least 11 death sentences in Uzbekistan have been lowered to prison terms. The authorities have also announced the intention to abolish the death penalty in stages. Beginning in 1994, the number of capital offenses was reduced from 13 to four.
The report finds, however, that Uzbekistan has not shown sufficient political will to reform domestic laws and institutions to bring them into line with its obligations under international human rights standards.
(The full Amnesty International report is available at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engeur620112003)
(Khurmat Babadjanov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report).