WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on Wednesday personally delivered a letter to Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, urging him to confront human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. President Karimov received the letter, signed by eight Members of the Helsinki Commission, during Karimov’s meeting with Speaker of the House Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other Members of Congress.
During the meeting, Co-Chairman Smith pressed Karimov to examine the cases mentioned in the letter, and take steps to ensure that his government end the use of torture. Smith said that relatives in the U.S. have contacted the Helsinki Commission asking for intercession with President Karimov on behalf of their imprisoned and tortured family members. Smith also noted that the State Department, in its most recent Country Report on Human Rights Practices, concluded that torture is widespread in Uzbekistan. Smith also urged Karimov to work with the U.S., in a spirit of cooperation, to eradicate the use of torture.
Almost ten years after Uzbekistan joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, thousands of individuals there have been arrested and subjected to torture for allegations related to their religious beliefs. Others have been singled out for their writings, while individuals affiliated with the political opposition have faced torture and imprisonment.
Co-Chairman Smith highlighted for President Karimov the cases of Mamadali Makhmudov and the Bekjanov brothers.
In August 1999, Makhmudov, a writer and poet, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for insulting the President, his membership in an illegal organization and allegations of trying to overthrow the constitutional order. There have been many credible reports that Makhmudov has been tortured while in detention, before and after his sentencing.
Three brothers of Mohammad Solih, leader-in-exile of the opposition Erk party, were convicted and jailed for alleged involvement in terrorism and other crimes. But there is reason to believe that Solih’s brothers, Kamil, Rashid and Muhammad, have been in prison because they are brothers of the political opposition leader. Family members indicate that the three brothers have been tortured in prison. Rashid Bekjanov has had an eye knocked out, Kamil Bekjanov’s nails have been torn out, and Muhammad’s teeth and one leg have been broken.
President Karimov said he would look into the cases raised by Co-Chairman Smith and the human rights concerns mentioned in the letter. Karimov admitted that torture does take place in Uzbekistan and that he will work on correcting the matter. The President then invited Co-Chairman Smith to visit Uzbekistan.
Signing the letter to Karimov were Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY).
“The ongoing and systematic abuses by Uzbek authorities against Muslims, which has been well documented by non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of State, are especially troubling,” the Commissioners wrote. “It is currently estimated that over 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Once in custody, many held in incommunicado detention are reportedly tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects or simply disappear.”
“Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that occurred over the past year. Human rights organizations have reported on the deaths of at least five individuals while in police custody,” the letter continues. “Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as ‘heart attack’ or ‘brain tumor,’ the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. We urge you to give priority attention to ending such practices and bringing those responsible to justice.”