An Uzbek court has agreed to look into allegations of torture by journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, as his trial got under way in Tashkent on March 7.
The first day of Abdullaev’s trial was adjourned after he was asked to remove his shirt to display traces of torture he claims to have suffered while in detention.
Judge Zafar Nurmatov approved the defense team’s request to have the defendant undergo a medical examination, after no objections were raised by prosecutors.
The hearing is set resume at an undisclosed time following the examination.
The trial of Abdullaev and three co-defendants -- blogger Hayot Hon Nasriddinov, businessmen Ravshan Salaev, and Shavkat Olloyorov -- is being closely watched by human rights advocates, opposition activists, and journalists as a test of the government’s vows to reform Uzbek society.
It was originally scheduled to begin on March 5.
A freelance journalist who has contributed to the news agency Fergana and other media outlets, Abdullaev is charged with "conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime," which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
His lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, says his client was tortured into making self-incriminating statements.
Mayorov, who met with his client in jail on March 3, said Abdullaev was tortured for several days after he was detained on a street in the capital by the National Security Service (MXX) on September 27.
“They beat him on his back, his legs, and along his left arm with a 1-meter-long plastic pipe. The worst torture was that they forced him to go six days without sleeping. For the entire duration of the six days, they didn’t allow him to sit or lie down,” Mayorov said. “The third form of torture was beating him on his back and head with a computer cable."
According to Mayorov, Abdullayev was kept naked in his cell for several days and subjected to psychological torture, including threats that his daughter who lives in Russia would be raped, his other children living in Uzbekistan would be killed, and his wife would be jailed.
The charges against Abdullaev and his co-defendants stem from a series of articles under the byline Usman Haqnazarov, which has been used by more than one person. The articles touched on issues related to circles close to the late former President Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian country with an iron fist for more than a quarter century before his death in 2016.
The trial is seen as a test of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has promised reforms, and of his government's commitment to overhauling the justice system and addressing widespread allegations of abuse by the MXX, which enforced Karimov's autocratic rule in the former Soviet republic.
In February, 12 human rights groups called for Abdullaev's immediate release and an independent investigation of allegations that he was tortured.
Last month, Abdullaev's case was transferred from the MXX to the Prosecutor-General's Office. Around the same time, Abdullaev was granted the right to a lawyer after being denied access to one for months.
Mirziyoev, a longtime prime minister who came to power after Karimov's death was announced in September 2016, has been shaking up the government structures, in particular the powerful MXX and Interior Ministry.
In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Uzbek authorities had taken "some positive steps" during Mirziyoev’s first year but still need to make "sustainable" improvements on human rights.