Friday 24 December 1999

NEW ALLEGATIONS OF TORTURE IN UZBEKISTAN by Felix Corley, Keston News Service One month after Uzbekistan was considered by the United Nations' Committee Against Torture in Geneva (to which Keston Institute submitted a report documenting a number of recent cases of torture), there are new allegations of torture by Uzbek law enforcement officers against a group of young Baptists, one of them aged just 16. In a 19 December statement passed to Keston News Service by the Friedensstimme Mission in Germany, YELENA VINOKUROVA, the mother of two of the alleged victims, detailed the events surrounding the torture, including what she described as `merciless beating'. She called on the Procurator General U. KHUDAIKULOV and the president ISLAM KARIMOV to `take measures to protect our children from arbitrary treatment by officers of the law enforcement agencies'. It is not clear why the militia (police) singled out this group of young Baptists for maltreatment. Responding to Keston's enquiry about these latest allegations, DJAMSHID MUTALOV, first secretary of the Uzbek embassy in London, said on 21 December that the embassy would not be in a position to respond as it has `no documentation' on these allegations. Keston then faxed Vinokurova's statement to the embassy. The embassy failed to come back with a response later on 21 December, despite follow-up telephone calls. According to Vinokurova, two of her sons, 18-year-old NIKOLAI and 16-year-old YEVGENI VINOKUROV, were returning to their home in Tashkent with friends on 16 December from the town of Sary-Agach. While they were passing through Keles at mid-morning they were stopped by the militia, who took their identity documents and brought them to the local militia station. `They handed over the children to officers of the criminal investigation department for investigation. Senior lieutenant K. MUKHAMEDJANOV conducted the investigation. The children were beaten mercilessly.' When Yevgeni told the officers that he was a minor and requested that he be allowed to contact his parents to let them know where he was `they mocked and beat him'. Musical instruments the group had with them were used to beat Nikolai and one of his friends over the head. The young people were reportedly made to do the splits. They were given nothing even to drink all day. Concerned that the group had failed to arrive safely in Tashkent, Yelena Vinokurova spent most of the day telephoning the militia to try to find out what had happened to them. The militia would not allow her into her local militia station. It was only at 10 p.m. that evening that the group were released from the militia station in Keles. `We found the children on the street without their documents,' Yelena Vinokurova reports. As a result of the maltreatment by the militia, Vinokurova reports that Yevgeni, who `had been beaten most of all', coughs continuously and has light injuries. An x-ray taken on 18 December revealed a crack to the third rib on the right. Nikolai is suffering from head wounds. Another member of the group, RUSLAN KARIMOV, has a broken lip and his thorax still hurts. Determined to get to the bottom of the incident, Yelena Vinokurova travelled to Keles on 17 December to investigate. However, she received no `coherent reply' to all her questions. The head of the Keles militia station, militia colonel R. I. ISROILOV, told her he had only just got to work that day. The deputy head, Major U. BEKCHANOV, was very rude, treating her to a lecture on how difficult the work of the law enforcement agencies was and how she was disturbing this work. `They refused to say who had done the beating, referring to their lack of knowledge of their fellow officers.' Mukhamedjanov, who had led the `investigation', refused point blank to talk to her. `Major B. ADYLOV, who was present when my children were brought in and interrogated, likewise knows nothing. He does not even know that they were beaten although he was present.' Yelena Vinokurova notes that the young Baptists offered no resistance to the militia and were not armed. In her statement, addressed to the procurator general and the president, Vinokurova reminds them that she was one of a number of Baptist mothers who complained to them about maltreatment of their children in the wake of a militia raid on 10 October on the Baptist church in the town of Karshi. The church was celebrating its harvest festival when the raid took place and Nikolai was among the children maltreated (see KNS 15 October 1999). `We received no reply,' she notes. `This has remained unpunished. Now the events have been repeated, this time in Tashkent.' The Vinokurov family belongs to a congregation affiliated with the Council of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group that rejected state registration during the Soviet era and was heavily persecuted. Congregations of the Council - which maintains no links with the Union of Evangelical Christians/Baptists of Central Asia - refuse even to apply for registration in Uzbekistan. At a meeting on 1 December at the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Tashkent, three Council leaders told CRA official PULAT BABAMAKHMADOV that the position remained unchanged, despite the CRA's arguments that they should apply for registration (see KNS 8 December 1999). The torture of the group of young Baptists in Keles is further confirmation that the Uzbek authorities have failed to stamp out malpractice by the country's law enforcement agencies. As a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), Uzbekistan submitted its first periodic report to the UN Committee Against Torture (UN reference: CAT/C/32/Add.3), which considered it at a hearing in Geneva in November. Keston Institute submitted its own report for consideration by the Committee, `Torture of Religious Believers in Uzbekistan' (distributed on Keston News Service 16 November 1999). The maltreatment of the Baptist children in Karshi was among the cases highlighted in Keston's report. Unfortunately, at the hearings the Committee against Torture failed to probe the answers to its questions given by the Uzbek government delegation and failed to raise specific cases of torture documented in NGO reports, including that of Keston Institute. In its Conclusions and Recommendations (CAT/C/23/7) of 19 November, the Committee noted that Uzbekistan's report was three years late, but praised it for its `frankness and exhaustiveness'. It also commended `the readiness of the [Uzbek government] delegation to enter into a dialogue with the Committee'. Nevertheless, despite the inadequacies of the hearing, in its Conclusions the Committee did raise several serious points of concern, including the lack of provision in Uzbek law to prosecute those guilty of inflicting torture at the instigation of a law enforcement officer, the low level of conviction on charges of torture despite the high number of complaints, the failure to apply in practice a Supreme Court ruling rendering inadmissible in court evidence extracted under torture and the failure in practice of courts to respect the principle of the presumption of innocence. Uzbekistan's next report under the Convention against Torture is due to be submitted in October 2000. (END) All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright: (c) Keston Institute 1999 Reproduction for personal use only. Subscription payments directly help religious freedom as we cannot provide this material unless we have income. 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