Thursday, January 13, 2005
New torture allegations in Uzbekistan
The body of Samandar Umarov was delivered to his relatives in Tashkent on 3 January, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Found guilty of membership in the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2000, Umarov had been serving a 17-year prison sentence in Navoiy. Tabassum Umarova, Samandar's elder sister, said that family members learned of her brother's death on 2 January. They received the body at 4 a.m. on 3 January from officials who demanded immediate burial.
A stroke was listed as the official cause of death. But Umarov's relatives said that the body bore signs of torture, including missing fingernails and toenails, bruises, and a shattered jawbone. Uzbek human rights organizations took up the case, and Ezgulik and the Initiative Group of Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan quickly issued press releases describing the details of the case and calling for an independent investigation. Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Svetlana Ortiqova told AP that a preliminary autopsy had shown that Umarov died from a stroke. She added that an "additional" investigation was under way, but provided no further details.
On 5 January, Freedom House issued a press release urging the Uzbek government to allow an independent inquiry. In a reference to the precedent of the Shelkovenko investigation, the appeal quoted Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor as saying: "We encourage the government of Uzbekistan to follow its own positive example...and to conduct an immediate, open, and transparent investigation according to international standards. Uzbek society needs to know the truth about Umarov's death."
The Freedom House press release can be found here.