Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
February 23, 2004
COMMISSION LEADERS URGE RELEASE OF
IMPRISONED 62 YEAR-OLD UZBEKISTAN WOMAN
Son Died in Uzbek Prison, Submerged in Boiling Water
(Washington) - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today expressed outrage over Uzbekistan’s recent conviction of a 62 year-old woman sentenced to prison for exposing the torturous death of her son at the hands of Uzbek prison officials. Fatima Mukhadirova was sentenced to six years of hard labor for publicizing the circumstances of the August 2002 death of her son, who died in the notorious Jaslyk prison after reportedly being submerged in boiling water.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and House Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) condemned the February 12 conviction of Mukhadirova by an Uzbek court.
“Fatima Mukhadirova’s conviction is truly shocking,” Chairman Smith said. “I urge Uzbekistan to release her immediately and unconditionally. Considering the lack of any real progress toward respect for human rights, the State Department must make an honest determination to this effect, ending the availability of U.S. assistance to the Uzbek Government, as provided for by U.S. law.”
“Uzbek officials have only compounded one deplorable travesty of justice with another by sentencing a 62 year-old grandmother to six years in a hard labor camp after her son was brutally tortured to death in prison,” Commissioner Cardin said. “Perhaps Uzbek officials are under the false impression that they can silence Mukhadirova’s campaign to achieve some small measure of justice for her son’s murder. They will not.”
Her son, Muzafar Avazov was held at the Jaslyk prison, known as the “prison of no return.” He was one of approximately 6,000 Muslims jailed because of their religious affiliation or belief. Avazov’s body showed evidence of numerous tortures, including being boiled and having his fingernails removed. Since then, Fatima Mukhadirova has waged a public campaign to bring those responsible for her son’s mistreatment to justice. The charges brought against her include possession of “illegal” religious literature and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
Section 568 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act [Public Law 108-199] requires the Secretary of State to certify that Uzbekistan is making “substantial and continued progress” implementing a strategic framework, including in the field of human rights, signed between the United States and Uzbekistan in March 2002. Certification is necessary for the release of U.S. assistance to the Uzbek Government. A decision on recertification is expected this spring, and no waiver is available.
“Uzbekistan is currently working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to develop an ‘action plan to combat torture.’ But a so-called action plan is no substitute for actually combating torture,” Smith declared. “By sending Mukhadirova to a labor camp, the Uzbek Government is mocking its own commitment to protect human rights and is undermining its relationship with the United States.”
“At a time when Uzbekistan is under pressure to demonstrate ‘substantial and continuing progress’ in meeting its bilateral commitments – a requirement for continued U.S. assistance – the United States should make clear Uzbekistan’s abject failure to do so,” said Cardin.
In a welcome move, in December 2003 the State Department determined that Uzbekistan failed to demonstrate respect for international human rights standards as required by the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. That program, however, allows for a waiver if there is a need to safeguard weapons or materiel. As Uzbekistan possesses large amounts of uranium, the administration issued a waiver allowing continued assistance for threat reduction and non-proliferation efforts.
Helsinki Commission members have repeatedly urged the State Department to take stronger action against Uzbekistan, including designating the former Soviet Republic as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. If this designation is made, the administration has a flexible menu of consequences that may be imposed.
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.
Media Contact: Ben Anderson
# # #
Freedom of Speech and Expression
Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion or Belief
Prevention of Torture