Uzbekistan – Torture, the Language of Repression

Uzbekistan – Torture, the Language of Repression

Islamic Human Rights Commission

Briefing: Uzbekistan – Torture, the language of repression

13 January 2003

IHRC is deeply concerned at the severity of the political repression in Uzbekistan. Arbitrary arrests, evidence of systematic torture and the obliteration of any political opposition are key features of this repression.

Brief background to post-Soviet Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a 90%+ Muslim country. Since independence, a dictatorial regime under the autocrat President Islam Karimov, has presided.

Characteristic of Uzbekistan has been its enduring economic crisis, non-existent civil society, and ongoing tensions with neighbouring countries. Public disaffection over the massive rise in poverty, manifested in demonstrations has elicited government crackdowns. Adjacent to this has been the virtual strangling of the press, with the denial of freedom of expression and the banning of political opposition groups, accompanied by the arrest of prominent political opposition figures.

Uzbekistan has witnessed the rise of Islamist movements in response to the failures and repression of the Karimov regime, making serious inroads into both urban and rural areas. These range from groups advocating peaceful change, such as Hizb ut-Tahir (Party of Liberation), and those who have engaged in limited armed action, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The response has been the arbitrary detentions of thousands of civilians, including children, suspected of harbouring Islamist sympathies. This has extended to women wearing religious garb and those undertaking religious study. Torture has become the language of detention.

Repression of Political Opposition

Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state. Karimov has attempted to install himself as ‘President for Life’, a throw back to the era of Soviet-style personality cults. Independent political groups are prohibited. Opposition to the government has been decimated. Constitutional mechanisms place restrictions on the formation of political parties. Erk (Liberty), the first democratically-orientated political party to emerge in Uzbekistan, has been dissolved. Its leader, Atanazar Oripov, was briefly detained. Some leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party and Adolat-True Path party have been forced to flee Uzbekistan, whilst those of Erk and the Birlik Movement have chosen voluntary exile.

Other examples of political restriction include:

  • Death in detention of Farhad Usmanov, son of a prominent Tashkent Imam. Crime – alleged possession of a single leaflet of Hizb ut-Tahrir. His widow, Musharaf Usmanov, was subsequently arrested.
  • Detention of a senior official of the Society for the Human Rights in Uzbekistan, Yuldash Rasulov. Accused of membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
  • Death in detention of Shovrik Ruzimuradov, senior official of the Society for Human Rights in Uzbekistan. Detention of Yusup Jumaev, prominent Uzbek poet. Accused of crimes against the constitution. Wrote articles highlighting the beating of prisoners.
  • Human rights organisations estimate that upwards of 7,500 political prisoners, both Islamist and secular are in detention, with many subject to varying degrees of torture.

Denial of Religious Freedoms

Karimov’s government has enacted laws designed to actively interfere with and criminalise day-to-day religious observance and practices. These have criminalised the private teaching of religion and the wearing of religious clothing, such as the traditional female headscarf or the sporting of the beard, by civilians. The government has sought to control mosques and other religious offices, appointing state approved (and hence controlled) clerics. Reported arrests of women praying privately in groups of more than three has added an extra disturbing dimension to the punitive restriction of religious practice.

Jehovah\’s Witnesses and Baptist groups have also been subject to harassment, though on a much lesser scale. Detentions of Shi’ites, a traditionally persecuted minority sect of Islam, have also been reported.

Arbitrary Detention

In today’s Uzbekistan disappearances have been routine. The absence of due process is a cause for concern. Forced Soviet-style psychiatric detentions are a feature. A culture of fear is epidemic throughout Uzbek society. Government crackdowns have impeded every aspect of Muslim life. It has been reported that people burn simple religious books to avoid accusations of Islamic fundamentalism. Example: reported that an illiterate farm labourer, Jura Sattatov, burnt three books on Islam to avoid accusations of Islamist participation. Next day his son was arrested on allegations of involvement in a non-violent Muslim group and sentenced to 20 years.

The government organises public humiliation sessions of the parents and family of detained Islamist suspects. Soviet-style, neighbourhood-level denunciations have become commonplace. Concern has been particularly expressed about the treatment of female relatives of detainees.

In areas of insurgency the forceful displacement of civilian populations has occurred.

Allegations of Torture

Reports from Uzbekistan are replenished with allegations of widespread torture, ill-treatment and secret, extra-judicial executions. Specific reports of male rape have been alleged.

Following the 1999 Tashkent bombings President Karimov issued public statements sanctioning, in effect, the use of violence against those suspected of harbouring sympathy with opposition groups.

In late 2002, a UN investigator, Theo van Boven, conducted a fact-finding mission to Uzbekistan. Despite obstructions by the Uzbek government, van Boven uncovered evidence revealing systemic torture of suspected religious/political sympathisers. His report further highlighted the disturbingly high number of deaths resulting from torture, with its employment routine in detentions.

Contemporaneous with van Boven’s visit was the disturbing case of Iskandar Khudoiberganov, an alleged torture victim sentenced to death, arrested for suspected religious affiliations. At Khudoiberganov’s trial, the judge ignored eyewitness testimonies, as well as the defendant’s, that confessions were extracted under torture. This case highlights the precarious state of human rights in Uzbekistan.

US interests and policy vis-à-vis Uzbekistan and Central Asia

Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan, occupies centrality in US foreign policy. The Caspian Basin represents the biggest oil bonanza on earth. This region can alone guarantee US/Western energy security over the next ten to fifteen years and reduce dependency on the Middle East. It is this which drives US policy, taking priority over any other operating commercial consideration.

The US government envisages Uzbekistan as a strategic, long term partner in its ambitions to assert control over Central Asia. This endorsement has increased since 9/11. With the Afghanistan campaign, the US established a military presence, which it retains. Uzbekistan’s proximity to Afghanistan is important to the US. As part of its plans for consolidation in the area, the US wishes to establish a pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan and the boarder Caspian Basin through Afghanistan. To aid this, the US administration has enacted bilateral agreements with Karimnov’s regime, with the commitment to provide aid of $100 million. This aid incorporates a military component, with a commitment to further aid to bolster the regime. However, aspects of this bilateral agreement have been kept secret. This is a cause for great concern. One can only speculate as to its contents. IHRC fears that it may pave the way for greater repression, increased human-rights violations and the enlargement of American military and economic involvement and hegemony in Uzbekistan and wider Central Asia.

Another factor which informs American support for Karimnov’s autocracy is the desire to frustrate Russian and Iranian ambitions in the region

The moral bankruptcy inherent in US foreign policy is all too evident in its approach to Karimnov’s regime. The current US administration has been accused of glossing over human rights abuses in Uzbekistan for the sake of diplomatic expediency. IHRC believes that the next few years will unfortunately witness America’s establishment of greater economic and military ties with oppressive regimes in the region as a prelude to its impending hegemony over the Caspian Basin and Central Asia.

For more information please contact:

Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
United Kingdom

Telephone (+44) 20 8902 0888
Fax (+44) 20 8902 0889

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