Covering events from January - December 2003

At least 6,000 political prisoners, who included dozens of women, continued to be held in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions. Human rights defenders and hundreds of people suspected of political or religious dissent were harassed, beaten and detained without trial, or sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials and frequently tortured or ill-treated. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture reported on a visit to Uzbekistan in 2002 in which he received numerous testimonies of systematic torture and ill-treatment. Torture was reported to have resulted in the death of at least three men in custody. At least 18 death sentences were passed after unfair trials marred by uninvestigated allegations of torture and corruption. The Special Rapporteur on torture called the secrecy surrounding the death penalty "malicious and amounting to cruel and inhuman treatment" of prisoners' families.


Despite limited legislative and judicial reforms, the Uzbek authorities continued to flout their international and national obligations on human rights, failing to address an appalling human rights situation which included official repression of dissent in civil, religious and political life. President Karimov failed to fulfil a commitment to publicly condemn torture in his speech to the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the capital, Tashkent, in May.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) resumed prison visits during 2003. After the Special Rapporteur on torture reported on his 2002 visit to Uzbekistan, the authorities granted journalists access to certain prisons and penal colonies.

In October the banned opposition Erk (Freedom) party held a general meeting despite official attempts to obstruct it, including the brief detention of members and confiscation of party materials. The unregistered Birlik (Unity) opposition movement was refused registration as a political party by the Ministry of Justice.

Human rights defenders under attack

The non-governmental human rights organization Ezgulik (Good Deeds) was allowed to register in March. Five members of the unregistered Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (OPCHU) were released from imprisonment: Yuldash Rasulov in January; Musulmonkul Khamraev, Norpulat Radzhapov and Dzhura Muradov in August; and Tursinbay Utamuratov in October. However, human rights defenders continued to face intimidation, ill-treatment and imprisonment.

  • Elena Urlaeva and Larisa Vdovina were released in December 2002 and January 2003 respectively after being forcibly confined in a psychiatric hospital in August 2002, reportedly because of their human rights activities. In June the Mirzo Ulugbek district civil court in Tashkent declared Larisa Vdovina mentally unsound, but she remained at liberty, despite failing to have the decision reversed on appeal. An independent psychiatric assessment in the Russian Federation in March found Elena Urlaeva not in need of psychiatric treatment. She was briefly detained by police on her way to a demonstration in April and again in August, when officers from the National Security Service (SNB) dragged her from her car and kicked her.
  • Ruslan Sharipov, a 25-year-old correspondent for the Russian news agency PRIMA and Chairman of the unregistered human rights organization Grazhdanskoe sodeystvye (Civic Assistance), was arrested in May. In August he was convicted on charges of homosexuality, punishable by up to three years' imprisonment, "encouraging minors to commit antisocial behaviour" and having sex with minors. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years' imprisonment. In September his sentence was reduced on appeal to four years. In October he was reportedly transferred to a penal colony. He insisted that the charges were fabricated because of his critical reporting and human rights work, and that the court had ignored forensic medical tests that exonerated him. He alleged that he was tortured into changing his plea to guilty, dismissing his lawyers and writing a suicide note. He said he was threatened with rape and suffocation, had a gas mask put over his head and the air supply turned off, and was injected with an unknown substance. In August his legal representative, Surat Ikramov, Chairman of the unregistered Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders, was dragged from his car by masked men, bound hand and foot, and driven to the outskirts of Tashkent where he was dumped. On the journey, he was beaten severely and had a plastic bag tied tightly over his head.

Rights of political prisoners violated

Supporters of the banned Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir and members of independent Islamic congregations and their families continued to face imprisonment, detention and intimidation. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of women and children organized peaceful protests against the harsh conditions and torture of their imprisoned relatives. Most were forcibly dispersed or detained by the police.

Political prisoners were reportedly subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

  • In June Malika Raimova was sentenced by Chilanzar District Court in Tashkent to eight years' imprisonment, deferred for one year because she was pregnant. She had been convicted on charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order of Uzbekistan" and "being a member of a religious, extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other prohibited organization" after she allegedly smuggled Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets to a prisoner. Three other women convicted in the same trial received suspended sentences of two and three years' imprisonment. According to reports, they had no defence lawyers and the court ignored allegations that Malika Raimova had been held for four days in an unheated cell in sub-zero temperatures and that co-accused Mukaddam Nigmanova was deprived of sleep and threatened with rape.

Torture and deaths in custody

In February the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, reporting on a visit to Uzbekistan in 2002, concluded that torture and ill-treatment were systematic and condoned by the authorities. Among his recommendations, he urged the authorities to close Jaslik penal colony where conditions were cruel, inhuman and degrading. In March the Uzbek authorities responded by denying that torture was systematic and criticizing the report. In October a hunger strike by political prisoners at Jaslik, in protest at their conditions and the persecution of their relatives, was reported to have been violently suppressed by special forces.

At least three men died in custody in suspicious circumstances during 2003, reportedly as a result of torture.

  • The body of Orif Ershanov, a 37-year-old father of four from Tashkent, was returned to his family in May. He had reportedly been detained on suspicion of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Eyewitnesses said that his body had bruising on the arms, shoulders, upper chest, legs and soles of the feet, open wounds on the back and an arm, and several broken ribs. The authorities reportedly told the family that he became ill while in SNB custody and died of natural causes in hospital, but provided no death certificate.

The death penalty in a flawed judicial system

At least 18 death sentences were passed and at least six executions were carried out. The true figures were believed to be considerably higher, but the authorities again failed to disclose comprehensive statistics, in violation of their international obligations. Death sentences continued to be passed within a criminal justice system seriously flawed by widespread corruption and the failure of the courts to investigate allegations of torture.

In December parliament passed a law reducing the number of articles in the Criminal Code punishable by death from four to two. However, the law reportedly did not come into force during the period under review. The two dropped Articles – "genocide" and "initiating or waging an aggressive war" – had not been in use.

At least four men were executed while their cases were under consideration by the UN Human Rights Committee, despite Uzbekistan's commitment to allow appeals by individuals to the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The authorities reportedly ignored signs of mental disturbance in prisoners under sentence of death.

  • Abror Isayev, aged 19, was sentenced to death for murder in December 2002. He had surrendered himself to the police in May 2002 as a potential witness, but was reportedly beaten for a week and coerced into confessing to the crime. In April 2003 he reportedly tried to kill himself and was extremely distressed. His mother repeatedly pressed for treatment but a prison doctor said her son was feigning illness. In June a Ministry of Interior official told her that he was receiving medical treatment and was in satisfactory health. However, in July she found him still severely disturbed and reported seeing senior officials making fun of him.
The clemency process and the executions themselves were shrouded in secrecy. In many cases, prisoners' relatives or anti-death penalty activists were harassed if they complained or protested publicly.
  • Tamara Chikunova, Director of the human rights organization Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture, received silent phone calls at night and death threats. SNB officers openly threatened that the group risked "elimination" after its contributions to the May meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. For several weeks, armed police came to Tamara Chikunova's flat every few days to "check her documents", once to search for weapons. She was accused by police of running a brothel and that she sympathized with Islamist "extremists".
The authorities stopped a death penalty conference organized by Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture due to be held in Tashkent in December on the grounds that the group was not registered. The group had repeatedly been denied registration.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Uzbekistan in June to conduct research on the death penalty and in December to attend a conference on the death penalty that was then stopped by the authorities.

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