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Released Uzbek Poet Says Torture Common In Uzbek Jails

Yusuf Juma in a photo from 2005
Yusuf Juma in a photo from 2005
A prominent Uzbek dissident poet recently released from prison says torture is common in Uzbek jails, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Yusuf Juma, 53, who was jailed in 2008 for "resisting police and injuring two policemen" during an antigovernment protest in the city of Bukhara, was released on May 18 after serving three years of his five-year prison term. He left for the United States the next day.

Juma told RFE/RL by phone from Louisville, Kentucky, on May 23 that he was tortured in the notorious Jaslyk jail in western Uzbekistan. He said he was subjected to regular beatings and said the prison authorities kept him in solitary confinement for 15 days at a time for no apparent reason.

Starting in 2009, Juma says, the authorities took him every 15 days from Jaslyk to a prison in Nukus, the capital of Uzbekistan's autonomous republic of Karakalpakistan, and back.

"They transported me in a tiny cell within a police car on horrible roads," Juma said. The cell was so small that he was constantly bumped and jolted while traveling the 500 kilometers between Nukus and Jaslyk on "a road that cannot even be described as a road."

"The special police car with that tiny metal cell inside had no ventilation and no windows, it was torture," Juma said.

"But the real torture for me," Juma continued, "was being deprived of a pen and a sheet of paper."

Juma said that prisoners in Uzbekistan face beating and humiliation on a daily basis. He expressed his gratitude to the United States, saying he survived the Uzbek prison system and was allowed to leave Uzbekistan for the United States only because human rights organizations based there raised concerns about his fate.

Juma mentioned the names of several jailed prominent Uzbek opposition figures whom he saw while in prison, adding that he does not believe they will ever be released.

Domestic and international human rights organizations had campaigned for Juma's release.

His family alleged that Juma was tortured in prison. His wife, Gulnora, told a panel in Washington last year that prison officials had broken her husband's ribs, knocked his teeth out, and repeatedly broken his fingers to prevent him from writing.

Listen in Uzbek here