WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called on Uzbek authorities today to permit international observers to meet with an Uzbek writer jailed and tortured for allegedly trying to overturn the state’s constitutional order and insulting the country’s President.
Mamadali Makhmudov, a renowned writer who has received international awards for his work, was convicted in August 1999 in a trial marred by violations of due process. Charged with trying to overthrow the constitutional order, membership in illegal organizations, and insulting President Islam Karimov, Makhmudov was sentenced to fourteen years in jail.
Chairman Smith said, “Mamadali Makhmudov is languishing in an Uzbek prison known as ‘the place from which no one returns.’ According to credible reports, he has been repeatedly tortured: his fingernails and toenails have been torn out, he has been beaten in the kidneys, he has lost weight and is dangerously ill. There is now serious reason to fear that Mr. Makhmudov will not survive his mistreatment.”
During his trial, Makhmudov managed to convey information about his torture in detention: “In the basement, they regularly beat me … they burned my legs and arms. They put a mask on me and cut off the air and hung me up by my hands. They told me they were holding my wife and daughters and threatened to rape them,” the PEN Writers in Prison Committee quotes Makhmudov as saying. “Uzbek authorities have denied that Mr. Makhmudov is being tortured,” Smith said. “But, thus far, they have also denied independent international observers, including independent doctors, the chance to meet with him and validate the Uzbek Government’s assertions.”
“The Uzbek authorities are responsible for what happens to Mr. Makhmudov,” continued Smith. “If they want to convince the international community that he is not being tortured, then they should immediately permit him to meet with independent observers.” Smith suggested that Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch, or Physicians for Human Rights should be given access to Makhmudov. Smith added that the U.S. and other embassies in Tashkent, as well as representatives of international organizations such as the OSCE officials, should also be allowed to meet with Makhmudov.
Background: Uzbekistan’s Government tolerates no opposition parties, represses all forms of dissent and has refused to register any independent human rights organizations. At a March 2000 OSCE meeting on torture, Uzbekistan was condemned by non-governmental representatives for systematic torture, often targeted at critics of the regime or members of religious minorities. Stephen R. Sestanovich, Ambassador at Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, is expected to travel to Uzbekistan in July. In October 1999, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the situation in Uzbekistan.