(Washington) - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today reacted with outrage after learning of the latest torture victims who died while in custody in Uzbekistan.
"I am appalled to learn of not one, but two more deaths-in-custody in Uzbekistan," said Smith. "Orif Ershanov and Otamaza Gafaro are the most recent individuals to join a long and growing list of those who have died after reportedly being tortured at the hands of Uzbek authorities."
Otamaza Gafaro was convicted in 1996 of stealing state property, a charge his family believes was trumped up. In April 2003, he was transferred to the Chrchik prison and was scheduled to be released in September. Gafaro's family received notice of his death on May 5.
Uzbekistan's National Security Service detained Orif Ershanov in Karshi, located in southern Uzbekistan, on suspicion of belonging to the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation). Ershanov died in custody on May 15.
"Tragically, this has become a simple pattern. People are taken into police custody alive, and they emerge dead," Smith continued. "Political opponents and those who deviate from the government's sanctioned view of Islam are especially likely to be imprisoned and tortured."
Last month, when the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development held its annual meeting in Tashkent, President Islam Karimov rebuffed the Bank's effort to secure an unequivocal condemnation of torture during the meeting.
"Attempts by Uzbek authorities to explain away the mutilated bodies they return to grieving families as the victims of 'high blood pressure' or other natural causes have failed to mask an unrelenting pattern of torture and abuse," said Smith. "Actions speak louder than words, and Karimov's victims--silenced as they may appear--have spoken volumes about his regime's lack of commitment to bring real progress to Uzbekistan."
"These most recent deaths should be a reality check for anyone still laboring under the mistaken impression that Uzbekistan is making 'substantial and continuing progress' in meeting its human rights commitments. I hope EBRD and U.S. officials understand this message, and send a clear message to Tashkent that assistance to Uzbekistan will not continue as long as torture continues."
Four Helsinki Commission Members wrote to Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs John B. Taylor in April urging him to press Uzbek authorities for resolution of a number of longstanding human rights matters prior to the EBRD meeting. "Frankly, we regret the decision to schedule the meeting in Tashkent, which allows the Uzbek authorities to host such a prestigious event despite the oppressive nature of the regime," the Commissioners wrote.
March 12, 2002: U.S. and Uzbek officials sign "Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework between the United States of America and Uzbekistan"
August 2, 2002: Congressional mandate goes into effect that assistance to Uzbekistan be contingent on a determination by the Secretary of State that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting commitments of the March 12 Declaration, including in the field of human rights
August 26, 2002: Secretary Powell determines that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress"
October 2002: Musurmon Kulmuratov dies in the custody of Uzbek authorities
November 2002: Izzatullo Mumino dies in the custody of Uzbek authorities
December 2002: UN Special Rapporteur on Torture finds torture in Uzbekistan is "systematic"
May 14, 2003: Secretary Powell again determines that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting its commitments
Death-by-Torture Victims Since December 2000
Musurmon Kulmuratov, November 2002
Izzatullo Muminov, October 2002
Muzafar Avazov, August 2002
Husnidin Alimov, August 2002
Khusniddin Khikmatov, May 2002
Ikrom Aliev, February 2002
Mirakhmed Mirzakhmedov, February 2002
Mirkamol Solikhojoev, February 2002
Dilmurod Juraev, February 2002
Alimukhammad Mamadaliyev, December 2001
Ravshan Haidov, October 2001
Shovriq Rusimorodov, July 2001
Emin Usmon, February 2001
Hazrat Kadirov, December 2000
Habibullah Nosirov, December 2000
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.