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UZBEKISTAN: Torture and death threats unpunished

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Urgench Police Officer Ravshan Sobirov who tortured Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev and issued death threats in October 2017 denied this to Forum 18. Tajiyev lost hearing in one ear and still suffers headaches. His many complaints to the President, national and local Prosecutor's Offices have led to no prosecutions.

In a test of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's newly-professed intent to ban torture and punish the perpetrators, Jehovah's Witness Anvar Tajiyev has been seeking redress since October 2017 for torture inflicted on him by police in Urgench in Khorezm Region.

More than six months after the police torture, Tajiyev still suffers headaches and has lost hearing in one ear.

But his complaints to many state agencies – including to the President – have ended back with Urgench City Prosecutor's Office, which wrote on 3 March: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."

"The authorities refuse to punish Urgench City Police and Officer Ravshan Sobirov responsible for the torture," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18 on 27 April.

Officer Sobirov denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed (see below).

Officials of the national, regional and city Prosecutor's Offices, the Presidential Administration, and the state-sponsored National Human Rights Centre all refused to tell Forum 18 why the officer who tortured Tajiyev has not been brought to justice and why he has been given no compensation. Uzbekistan has an international obligation to arrest and prosecute those suspected of torture (see below).

Urgench Police also threatened the lives of Tajiyev, his family and fellow believers when it questioned him on 10 October 2017 about his religious activity. They then forced him to sign a statement that they had not tortured him (see below).

Relatives were too afraid to take Tajiyev to a hospital in Urgench. In the capital Tashkent, one state hospital and a private clinic refused to treat him, apparently because police had caused the injuries. Only another state hospital was prepared to issue a diagnosis (see below).

Jehovah's Witnesses are considering filing an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, they told Forum 18.

Human rights defenders remain sceptical about government moves to ban and punish torture, one telling news agency centre1.com "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation" (see below).

Torture as punishment for registration application?

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the police tortured Tajiyev "because our local community in Urgench between January and March 2017 had unsuccessfully asked for state registration".

Back in 2006, after officials rejected the registration application of the Jehovah's Witness community in Kagan, police threatened ten members with death and a court later fined them (see F18News 9 January 2008 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1068).

Exercising freedom of religion or belief without local state registration is illegal and punishable (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

Unauthorised police raid

Trouble for Tajiyev began on 3 October 2017, when Urgench City Police officers carried out an "unlawful search" in his flat in Urgench without showing a warrant, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. When the police raided his home, Tajiyev was away in Tashkent. Present during the raid were Rinat Sultanov, Tajiyev's fellow believer and tenant of the same flat, and Murat Ayliyev, another local Jehovah's Witness.

The raiding officers confiscated Tajiyev's tablet device and notebook with personal notes on it. Officers forced Sultanov to tell them the password to open the tablet device, Jehovah's Witnesses complained.

"Police later returned the tablet to Tajiyev, but did not inform him whether or not a case was opened against him," Jehovah's Witnesses added.

"The General Prosecutor's Office wrote to us that the police terminated the administrative case against Tajiyev since no illegal religious materials were found on his tablet device," Muradova of the National Centre for Human Rights, told Forum 18 on 25 April 2018.

Officer tortures Tajiyev, threatens his, his family's and fellow believers' lives

As soon as Tajiyev arrived back in Urgench from Tashkent on 10 October 2017, local Police Officer Senior Lieutenant Mamur Sobirov phoned him at 11.30 am, and summoned him to the Committee of his local mahalla (city district), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

Mahalla committees, theoretically independent but in practice under state control, are used to maintain controls over anyone trying to exercise freedom of religion and belief in their city district (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

When Tajiyev arrived at the Mahalla Committee at 4.45 pm, four officers were present: Mamur Sobirov; Mukhammad Rakhimov and Shavkat Bekjanov from Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism; and Officer Ravshan Sobirov.

"The officer gave his name as Ravshan Sobirov, but is possible that this is not his real name. He is the one who tortured Tajiyev," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "We believe he is an undercover secret police officer."

Officers of the then National Security Service secret police (renamed the State Security Service in March 2018) have often been involved in punishing individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

While questioning him "Sobirov made powerful blows to Tajiyev's head and face during the whole process, which went on for nearly four hours until 10.30 pm," Jehovah's Witnesses complained. Sobirov "humiliated Tajiyev, his wife, and his female fellow-believers with swear words, and also issued threats, saying that we will destroy all of you."

During their interrogation, officers also named several female Jehovah's Witnesses, describing them to Tajiyev as "immoral women". In Central Asia, the authorities brand female members of religious organisations they do not like as "immoral women".

The authorities use threats to rape female members of religious communities they do not like to put psychological pressure on the leaders and members of such communities (see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314).

Asked about the case, duty officers at Urgench City Police (who did not give their names) referred Forum 18 on 23 April to Officer Ravshan Sobirov. He denied to Forum 18 that he was involved in Tajiyev's case. "I do not know that person," he claimed to Forum 18 on 23 April. "I did not question him."

Told that Jehovah's Witnesses complained about him to the authorities numerous times, and asked why he questioned and tortured Tajiyev, Sobirov repeated his previous answer. He did not wish to talk further to Forum 18.

"Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov along with other officers of our Department carried out their responsibility to investigate the case," Khamra Masimov, Chief of Urgench Police's Department for the Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism, told Forum 18 on 23 April. "But our officers did not violate the law."

Asked what role Officer Ravshan Sobirov played in the investigation, Masimov refused to answer. "I do not know you, and I cannot discuss the case with you over the phone." He then declined to talk further with Forum 18 and asked it to send questions in writing.

Rakhimov is the same officer, who in January harassed local Protestant Nargiza Khusainova on the street and tried to pressure her to become an informer for the police (see F18News 6 April 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2367).

Forced to sign police report denying torture 

After four hours of interrogation and beating on 10 October 2017, officers "under threats of more severe injuries to his body", forced Tajiyev to sign the police report saying that he had no complaint against the Police, and that officers had not beaten or psychologically pressured him, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Tajiyev "was afraid that the police officers could cause him physical or mental disabilities".

State emergency medical centre refuses medical examination

Tajiyev's relatives were afraid to take him to Urgench City Hospital because of the police. They instead took him to Tashkent the next day, 11 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. They brought him to the Republican (State) Centre of Emergency Medical Services in Tashkent. "When Ayliyev (Tajiyev's co-believer) told the medical workers that the injuries were made by the Police officers of Urgench City, they refused to examine Tajiyev."

Gulchohra Turayeva, medical worker on duty who answered the phone of the Republican Centre of Emergency Medical Services on 24 April, told Forum 18 that "by the Law we have to examine patients and only then inform the police if need be. We cannot refuse patients, particularly with serious injuries." Asked why then Tajiyev was refused medical examination in the Centre, she referred Forum 18 to the Centre's Administration.

Asylbek Khudayarov, General Director of the Emergency Centre, claimed to Forum 18 on 25 April that Tajiyev "wanted to be hospitalised, but we can only do diagnosis, which is why we refused services to him."

When Forum 18 asked why the Centre did not examine Tajiyev and whether the Police involvement in the case was the reason, Khudayarov did not answer. "Please, send your questions in writing," he said and declined to talk further to Forum 18.

Private clinic also refuses treatment

Relatives then contacted one of Tashkent's private clinics, Medical Diagnostics Services. But it too refused to examine Tajiyev.

Lola Kaharova, General Director of Medical Diagnostics Service, told Forum 18 on 24 April: "We as a private clinic do not usually refuse services to patients unless we do not have the exact specialists."

Asked why Tajiyev was refused diagnosis of his brain, Kaharova responded: "Maybe we did not have the specialists on that particular day." Asked whether this happened because of police involvement in Tajiyev's case and whether she could check their records for 11 October 2017, she told Forum 18 that Tajiyev "must write us a complaint".

Diagnosed with concussion of brain

Only after a search for available hospitals, the following day, 12 October 2017, Tashkent City Hospital No. 7 accepted Tajiyev. There he was diagnosed with closed cranium cerebral injury (concussion of the brain), Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

Complaints and official responses

On 30 October 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses asked Urgench City Prosecutor's Office for a copy of the Prosecutor's approval of the police search of Tajiyev's home. On 10 November 2017, Prosecutor Umurbek Madrakhimov passed on the request to Urgench City Police. However, the Police did not reply.

On 15 November 2017, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to President Mirziyoyev and the National Centre of Human Rights in Tashkent. The following day they filed a further online complaint through the presidential website.

On 25 November 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office summoned Tajiyev, subjecting him to a four-hour interrogation. "During the questioning he was warned not to go on writing complaints but was promised that the authorities will punish Officer Sobirov."

On 28 November 2017, Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Centre for Human Rights, referred the Jehovah's Witness complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.

On 13 December 2017, Oybek Shamuratov, Khorezm Region's Deputy Prosecutor, in response to the complaint to President Mirziyoyev, wrote to the Jehovah's Witnesses: "We found no unlawful actions carried out by Officer Mukhammad Rakhimov." Jehovah's Witnesses objected to Forum 18: "We did not complain against Officer Rakhimov but against Officer Sobirov."

On 16 December 2017, Urgench City Prosecutor's Office merely referred Jehovah's Witnesses to Prosecutor Shamuratov's 13 December response. The letter was signed again by Prosecutor Madrakhimov.

Seeing the inaction of the Regional authorities, Jehovah's Witnesses refiled their complaint on the presidential website in late December. They complained about the Regional authorities' unwillingness to investigate the torture properly and punish the responsible officials. They also drew the President's attention to the fact that "Tajiev was beaten not by Officer Rakhimov but by Officer Sobirov."

On 7 January 2018, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Region, Shamuratov again responded that Officer "Rakhimov did not violate the Law". Jehovah's Witnesses pointed out to Forum 18 that again the Regional Prosecutor's Office indicated a "wrong name."

On 17 January, Jehovah's Witnesses again complained to the National Centre for Human Rights, which it referred to the General Prosecutor's Office. This in turn told the Centre on 29 January that it had referred the complaint to Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office.

On 28 February, Deputy Prosecutor of Khorezm Shamuratov told Jehovah's Witnesses: "We halted the investigation of the complaint, because there are no new circumstances of the case."

The last response Jehovah's Witnesses received was on 3 March from Urgench City Prosecutor's Office: "We found that the Police Officers' actions were not unlawful."

Will authorities implement anti-torture Acts?

Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case in light of the Presidential anti-torture Decree and changes to the Criminal Code, Prosecutor Samir Rakhmanov of the General Prosecutor's Office did not respond. "No new cases of torture took place after the Decree, otherwise we would have investigated and published information on that," he claimed to Forum 18 on 26 April.

Asked why then despite so many complaints from Jehovah's Witnesses, including those made between December 2017 and March 2018, the authorities will not properly investigate Tajiyev's torture and punish the perpetrators, Rakhmanov referred Forum 18 to Prosecutor Vakhib Sharopov.

Forum 18 had already talked to Sharopov of the General Prosecutor's Office on 24 April on the torture of Tajiyev. Called again on 26 April, he told Forum 18: "I passed on your information to the appropriate Prosecutors, who are at the moment studying the case to prepare action. We will need at least 10 days for this."

Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, why police and other authorities keep pressuring and torturing their members, and why the authorities will not punish officials responsible for Tajiyev's torture, officials at the reception and press service of the Presidential Administration on 26 April referred Forum 18 to Shakhzod Islamov, who oversees religious issues, and Sardor Ibrahimkhojayev, who oversees legislative issues.

Both Islamov and Ibrahimkhojayev refused to respond to Forum 18's questions on 26 April. Ibrahimkhojayev referred Forum 18 to the Justice Ministry.

Asked the questions, Shakhrukh Nuraliyev, Press Secretary of the Justice Ministry, referred Forum 18 on 26 April to Akmal Khamdamov of the Ministry section overseeing religious organisations.

"I don't know why the President's Office referred you to us, because we are not an investigative organ," Khamdamov told Forum 18 on 26 April. Asked why the authorities will not register Jehovah's Witness communities across Uzbekistan, he was quick to answer, "They have registration in Uzbekistan."

Told that Jehovah's Witnesses are registered only in one town in Tashkent Region, Chirchik, while their other communities across Uzbekistan have been denied registration, and that it is illegal to meet for worship without registration, and asked what they should do, Khamdamov was silent. He then said, "I cannot say anything, I do not know why they referred you to us."

National Centre for Human Rights "not competent to investigate human rights violations"

Dilnoza Muradova, Assistant to Akmal Saidov, Chair of the state-sponsored National Centre for Human Rights in Tashkent, told Forum 18 on 24 April that it had sent an enquiry to the General Prosecutor's Office about Tajiyev's torture. However, the General Prosecutor's Office response did "not say anything about any the investigation of the police actions".

Told that Jehovah's Witnesses twice complained to her Human Rights Centre, and asked what steps it took – if any - to help Tajiyev, Muradova replied: "The Centre is not competent to investigate human rights violations – it's the duty and competence of the state organs, to which we always refer complaints."

Asked what the role of the Centre is, and how it can help victims whose rights were violated, Muradova responded: "We inform the authorities about the violations, and they inform us on the course of their investigation."

Asked why the authorities will not begin implementing the new anti-torture acts by punishing the police officers and compensating Tajiyev for damages he suffered, Muradova replied: "He needs to write to us and the authorities about it."

Told that Tajiyev already wrote numerous complaints to her Centre and other state agencies, Muradova was quick to reply, "We will now prepare another letter asking the General Prosecutor's Office to open a new investigation into the police actions."

Prosecutor's officials refuse to discuss torture

Prosecutor Timur Gofurov answered the phone on 23 April of Gulnoza Rakhimova, Chief of the General Prosecutor's Office Public Relations and Legal Information Section in Tashkent. Asked why the General Prosecutor's Office will not properly investigate Tajiyev's case and make Officer Sobirov who tortured Tajiyev and the other police officers responsible, Gofurov claimed to Forum 18 that Khorezm Regional Prosecutor's Office "investigated that case properly and replied to the complaints."

"If Jehovah's Witnesses are not satisfied, they can still file a new complaint," Gofurov added.

Urgench City Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 between 23 and 24 April and told Forum 18 that Prosecutor Madrakhimov had been "transferred to Tashkent to the General Prosecutor's Office." They also refused to put Forum 18 through to any other officials.

Asked whether Prosecutor Madrakhimov was indeed transferred to the General Prosecutor's Office, Sharopov of the Prosecutor General, claimed to Forum 18 on 24 April: "I do not know, since there are so many departments and officials in the Office."

Asked about Tajiyev's case, Sharopov took down the details and promised Forum 18 that "We will do our best to properly investigate the case."

Khorezm Prosecutor's officials (who did not give their names) between 23 and 24 April refused to discuss the case with Forum 18 or put it through to Prosecutor Shamuratov or other officials.

Will new ban end "routine" torture?

At its most recent consideration of Uzbekistan's record, in October and November 2013, the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT/C/UZB/CO/4) expressed its concern "about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations that torture and ill-treatment are routinely used by law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, or at their instigation or with their consent, often to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings".

Uzbekistan told the UN Committee Against Torture in its report due in 2017, submitted on 16 January 2018 (CAT/C/UZB/5), that 29 state officials were convicted in 2015 for committing torture, 21 in 2016 and 8 in the first quarter of 2017. Sentences ranged from a fine to suspended sentences to prison terms. Thirteen state officials were sacked between January 2016 and June 2017 after criminal cases of torture were lodged against them.

However, the report notes that few complaints against "illegal actions" by police were upheld (only 23 of 438 in 2016 and 5 of 39 in January-March 2017).

The government's report claims that legislation has been tightened "to strengthen procedures for compensating the victims of crime, including torture".

On 30 November 2017, President Mirziyoyev signed a Decree on "supplementary measures for reinforcement of guarantees of rights and freedoms of citizens in judicial-investigative activity". This banned using evidence obtained by torture and other inhuman treatment, as well as making inadmissible the use of such evidence by the judiciary or other investigative organs.

Further amendments came in April 2018. On 4 April, President Mirziyoyev signed into law changes and new provisions in the Criminal Code criminalising torture, including psychological pressure, during investigation by Police and other law-enforcement agencies. The amendments came into force on 5 April on publication in the state-sponsored newspaper "Halq Suzi" (People's Tribune).

According to the new legal provisions, law-enforcement officers who are aware of torture and take no action will also be made responsible as accomplices. Punishments for torture include imprisonment of between 3 and 10 years.

However, human rights defenders are not optimistic about the changes. Yelena Urlayeva, a human rights defender from Tashkent, told centre1.com, an independent Uzbek news agency, on 11 April that "there are still many cases of torture by the law-enforcement agencies". The ban on torture initiated by President Mirziyoyev does "not work in reality, because only a few [officials] want to change," she added.

Tatyana Dovlatova, another local human rights defender, told the agency that "many still keep silent about their torture because the law-enforcement agencies threaten them and their family members, telling them that their complaints will only worsen the situation." (END)


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