Published on the website of the France-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), the organization's president says the letter was "sent by inmates" at the Jaslyk prison located in northwestern Uzbekistan.
It details how an inmate, whose first name is Ortikali, was beaten in December 2011 for not showing any interest in the mandatory one-hour reading of books by Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
Karimov has written a number of books, with perhaps his most famous being "Uzbekistan On The Threshold Of The 21st Century," his vision for his country's future. It is unclear which of his works inmates were reading.
The letter details what happened to Ortikali after not paying attention during the reading hour:
According to the letter, Ortikali was placed in solitary confinement for 10 days. Other prisoners were also sent to solitary for supporting Ortikali, with four prisoners going on hunger strike for four days.
It is unclear how the letter was smuggled out or how AHRCA, an organization that was set up by political émigrés, obtained the letter. RFE/RL has seen a copy of the letter, which is written in unsophisticated Uzbek and appears to be genuine.
The allegations of abuse are consistent with other accounts of former prisoners from Jaslyk.
As RFE/RL reported in August:
The prison, which houses 5,000 to 7,000 inmates, hit the headlines in 2002 when the New York-based Human Rights Watch documented the cases of two prisoners who died at the facility. Doctors who saw the body of one of the men said that the injuries could have only been caused by being immersed in boiling water.
Set in Uzbekistan's Karakalpaksta republic, Jaslyk was set up in the wake of the 1999 Tashkent bombings, which killed 16 people and which the government blamed on Islamic militants. Thousands of people were rounded up, many of them from Islamic groups, and sent to Jaslyk. In recent years, the facility has housed political prisoners.
Uzbekistan has not allowed UN rapporteurs to visit its prisons, including Jaslyk. Independent human rights organizations are often prevented from investigating alleged cases of rights abuses in the country.
While the letter's claims are consistent with other accounts, it is worth remembering that Uzbek rights activists have been fooled before. In December 2011, human rights and media organizations (including RFE/RL) reported the story of a woman, Gulsumoi Abdujalilova, who had supposedly killed herself in Uzbekistan after being interrogated by the police.
But after suspicions were raised and an investigation by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, an Uzbek woman who had produced a death certificate for Abdujalilova said the story was a hoax. While it is almost certain that Abdujalilova did not exist, questions were subsequently raised about the credibility of the "hoaxers'" confession. (Read more on the convoluted tale here.)
Whistle-blowers from Uzbekistan are rare, but previous experience has shown it is worth treating their claims with caution. Ikrom Yakubov, who claimed to be a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), fled Uzbekistan. While applying for political asylum in Britain, he claimed that President Karimov directly ordered senior military officers to tell troops to fire on protesters in the eastern city of Andijon in 2005.
The Uzbek government says 187 people died in the violence, while many rights groups put the number of dead closer to 1,000.
Since 2008, however, doubt has been cast on Yakubov's case, with a prominent rights activist saying that Yakubov had been fired from a low-level government position, didn't have any access to sensitive information, and received his knowledge of Uzbek violations from his time working at an NGO.
-- Luke Allnutt