Uzbek political prisoners experience 'systematic and widespread torture' says Human Rights Watch

By bne IntelliNews September 26, 2014

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Thousands of Uzbeks imprisoned on political charges are experiencing a wide range of human rights abuses including torture, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a report on  Uzbekistan.

In its report entitled “Until the Very End: Politically Motivated Imprisonment in Uzbekistan” published on September 26, HRW examines the high-profile cases of 34 prominent political and religious prisoners who represent every region of the country to "shed light on larger trends of political repression in Uzbekistan and on the government’s attempt to suppress a wide range of independent activity that occurs beyond strict state control".

Individuals imprisoned on political charges include human rights activists, journalists, political opposition activists, religious leaders and believers, cultural figures, artists, entrepreneurs and others who have been "imprisoned for no other reason than their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the government’s identification of them as 'enemies of the state'", the human rights watchdog says.

"The abuses suffered by those imprisoned on politically motivated charges in Uzbekistan include denial of access to counsel, incommunicado detention, pre-trial and post-conviction torture, solitary confinement, the denial of appropriate medical care, and the arbitrary denial of amnesty and extension of prison sentence," the report says. "These are all serious violations of Uzbekistan’s domestic and international human rights obligations."

Information, collected by HRW from 150 in-depth interviews, also shows that political and religious prisoners are held in appalling prison conditions - overcrowded cells, poor quality and insufficient food and water, and inadequate medical treatment - which do not meet international prison standards. "Authorities have routinely denied these prisoners treatment for serious medical problems, many of which emerged over the course of prolonged imprisonment," the report says. "Failure to provide adequate health care or medical treatment to a detainee in prison may contribute to conditions amounting to inhuman or degrading treatment."

The report coincides with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw on September 22-October  during which HRW and Amnesty International plan to hold a side event on September 26 to draw attention to Uzbekistan’s human rights record, which, the organisers say, "is marked by patterns of systematic and widespread torture, targeting by the authorities of civil society activists, political opposition figures, and independent journalists, and persecution of religious believers who worship outside strict state controls".

Uzbekistan, one of the world's most repressive countries, has shown little tolerance to any opposition to the authoritarian rule of strongman President Islam Karimov since it obtained independence in 1991. Human rights activists estimate the number of political and religious prisoners at between 7,000 and 10,000. A dozen human rights defenders, independent journalists and political opposition figures are languishing in prison "for no other reason than their engagement in legitimate civic activism", while "thousands of others have been convicted on overly broad charges of 'religious extremism' in closed trials, which are often based on confessions procured through the use of torture and without the presence of independent counsel", the event organisers say.

Uzbek authorities have stepped up repression and have cracked down on civil society and media, including the blocking of access to international media outlets such as the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, since the Andijan events in May 2005 when government troops opened fire and killed hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters whom they branded as Islamic militants seeking to overthrow the government.

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