New York, September 11, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has learned that Ruslan Sharipov, a jailed Uzbek journalist and human rights activist, issued a statement from prison on September 5 reporting that he pled guilty to one charge in his August trial because authorities had forced him to do so by torturing him.
In the statement, Sharipov wrote, “I was tortured and pressured in ways I cannot describe with the aim of forcing me to confess and plead guilty at the trial for a crime I hadn’t committed.” He continued, “They put a gas mask on my head and sprayed an unknown substance into my throat. …After that I could hardly breath, they injected an unknown substance into my veins and said they will inject me with the AIDs virus if I did not follow their instructions.”
Sharipov’s September 5 statement was addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and posted on the Web site of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (www.cjes.ru) on September 9. A member of Sharipov’s family confirmed to CPJ in a telephone interview today that the statement is authentic.
On August 13, Sharipov was convicted of sodomy, having sexual relations with minors, and managing prostitutes. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison. The journalist, who is openly gay, denies the last two charges.
Although homosexuality is a criminal offense in Uzbekistan and gays face regular police harassment, prosecution of such cases is rare. As a result, local journalists and human rights activists suspect the charges against Sharipov are an effort to silence his criticism of authorities.
In his statement to Annan, Sharipov also said, “Before I ‘confessed’ and ‘pled guilty’ at the trial presided over by judge Mahmudov Ganisher, I was forced to write a ‘death note’ in which I wrote, as dictated, a goodbye letter and declared that I committed suicide of my own volition.”
A U.N. special rapporteur on torture who visited Uzbekistan in December 2002 described police abuse of prisoners as “systematic.” International human rights organizations report that Uzbek authorities commonly use fabricated criminal charges to silence government critics.
“We call on President Islam Karimov to release Ruslan Sharipov from custody immediately and to arrange for an independent and impartial review of the charges and evidence against him in a safe setting,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “President Karimov must also ensure that prosecutors aggressively investigate whether torture was used to coerce a confession.”
Police and the security service have threatened and harassed Sharipov for several years because of critical articles he has written for both the Russian news agency Prima and for the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan’s Web site describing police abuses and press freedom violations.
Many of Sharipov’s articles were published on the Internet in English, making them far more accessible to an international audience than articles written by other Uzbek journalists and human rights activists.
Police arrested Sharipov, 25, on May 26 in the capital, Tashkent. Numerous irregularities were reported in his trial, which began on July 23 behind closed doors at the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court in Tashkent, according to local and international press reports.
Judge Ganisher Makhmudov ordered the trial closed to the public, ostensibly to protect the privacy of the minors who were allegedly victims in the case, The Associated Press reported. Human rights advocates, however, believe the trial was closed to prevent public scrutiny of the case.
On August 8, Sharipov’s trial took a bizarre turn when the journalist reportedly plead guilty to sodomy, waived his right to legal counsel, and expressed his readiness to apologize for criticizing President Islam Karimov and other Uzbek authorities in his articles, according to a member of Sharipov’s defense team.
To the Secretary General of the UN Mr. Kofi Annan
From sentenced prisoner Ruslan Sharipov
Correspondent of the Russian News Agency “Prima”
Leader of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan “Citizen Assistance to” Tashtyurma UYa 64/ Si 1
Copy to: HRW, RSF, PEN, CPJ, IPI, IFJ, OSCE, EBRD, ICJ, George Bush, Islam Karimov, Procuracy of Uzbekistan, Ministry of the Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, Supreme Court of the Uzbekistan, Ombudsman of Uzbekistan.
Coming of age of the Uzbek Republic, or
All roads lead to “Independence”
“Don’t make me commit suicide Mr. President! ”
–speech given on 31.08.03 by the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov
Dear Kofi Annan,
I am writing to you from Tashkent prison in order, once again, to draw your and the international community’s attention to the situation of human rights, freedom of expression, and persecution of opponents of the corrupt regime.
Despite of the fact that as a result of my previous letters from prison I endured increased pressure, threats and torture, I decided again to write to the international community with a request to decisively judge the repressive politics of the Uzbek government against the few remaining critical voices in Uzbekistan.
My agony for our country, which is run by corrupt authorities and organized crime, pushes me to take this illogical action, as well as concern for my colleagues, both those who are not imprisoned and those who are in Uzbek prisons.
I say “illogical” because before I “confessed” and “plead guilty” at the trial presided over by judge Mahmudov Ganisher, I was forced to write a “death note,” in which I wrote, as dictated, a goodbye letter and declared that I committed suicide of my own volition.
I was clearly told that if I would write any further appeals or complaints, I would commit suicide, that is, I would “kill myself.”
I was tortured and pressured in ways I cannot describe with the aim of forcing me to confess and plead guilty at trial for a crime that I hadn’t committed. The same thing happened to me during the investigation at the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Department of Internal Affairs.
When using torture and pressure against me, police officers from the criminal investigation department of the District Department of Internal Affairs, whose names are Police Officer #1 and Police Officer #2, understood very well that, during the trial, if they were to use cruel methods of torture: beatings or harassment, my lawyers would see the marks of the torture. This is why they used forms of torture that couldn’t leave any evidence of beatings on my body.
However, these barbarians did all that was necessary, to “convince” me to plead guilty and incriminate myself with my own mouth at the trial.
They put a gas mask on my head and sprayed an unknown substance into my throat, after which I could hardly breathe. The also injected an unknown substance into my veins and warned me that if I did not follow their instructions they would give me an injection of the AIDS virus.
I could not withstand such excesses, and now I am writing only a small part of what I faced and unfortunately I can’t now write the names of all the persons who were directly involved.
As the officers of the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Department of Internal Affairs, Police Officer #1 and Police Officer #2, tortured and threatened me, likewise Police Officer #3 and Police Officer #4 tortured and threatened me in the basement of the GUVD (City Department of the Internal Affairs); and similarly the officers of the Yunusabad District Department of Internal Affairs who detained me and tortured and threatened me at the building of the Yunusabad District Department of Internal Affairs, all of them being employees of different sections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, hiding their names under the Minister of the Internal Affairs, Ministry Zokir Almatov and the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.
During my detention, these officers told me that Zokir Almatov himself was keeping my criminal case under his control and reporting personally to Islam Karimov, that they would imprison me, and that it would be better if I followed their instructions, in order to shorten the prison term and imprisonment, as well as to save my life and health.
The judge Mahmudov Ganisher, Police Officer #1, and Police Officer #2 even threatened physical harassment of my lawyers if I did not release them, and they demanded that I send my mother out from the court room, confess, and plead guilty, and especially that I ask pardon of President Islam Karimov and Zokir Almatov for criticism and “disinformation” about the Uzbek government and the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
They were irritated when their suit against me collapsed before their own eyes, victims became hysterical during cross-examination by the defending side, the lack of evidence to support their allegations, and furthermore that the forensic examinations showed no evidence of sexual contact between us.
And that is why, during this crucial stage of the trial I faced such a cruel treatment, in spite of the risk that I could testify about the torture with my lawyers at the trial.
But I remembered their warning, that the lawyers will go an I will stay in their hands. To be honest, I was horribly afraid after what they had done with me, and about what unfortunately I cannot say. I was also afraid that they could do all this to my mother and younger brother, as well as to my lawyers.
I will never forget that videotaping, which shamed my honesty and dignity that they organized and indeed I am, as every citizen of the country, literally without the strength to oppose this hellish machine. Today I indeed damn the day when I believed in the purposes and aims spread in the propaganda of the Uzbek authorities in 1999, when I set myself the goal of taking part in and successfully completing the program of the “Umid” foundation of the President Islam Karimov, participation in which led to my independent journalistic and human rights activities and subsequent imprisonment because of these activities.
It would be foolish to say that I did not know what my actions would lead to. In fact I understood perfectly. But it is an entirely different matter to actually to go through this hellish nighmare yourself, in which no one will help you and no one will hear you.
President Islam Karimov will not give his hand of aid because I and my colleagues in the Uzbek prisons are considered enemies of the people.
The President Islam Karimov doesn’t even know, that as a result of pursuing justice, defending human rights and freedom of expression, and criticizing corruption in the higher level authorities and the Internal Affairs Ministry (city and district departments), now I am afraid of my own shadow and the noise of the opening of the cell’s doors, because I am waiting the next round of torture at the hands of the officers of the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Department of Internal Affairs and other structures of the system. The officers always reminded me that they and others (whose names I cannot write now) at any time can call me back with the same request and again continue the derision of my life, honesty and dignity, which they have already turned into a laughingstock.
Soon, I will be sent to a prison colony to serve my sentence, where, according to the city department and Yunusabad and Mirzo-Ulugbek district departments officers, some people are already waiting for me and I will have to answer for the “damage” caused to independent Uzbekistan.
Now, after hearing the open threats of the higher level authorities, especially the chief of the anti-terrorism department of the Tashkent City Department of Internal Affairs, and high-level officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
1) Tursunbai Rakhmatullaev
2) Lutfullo Abdullaev of the anti-terrorism department Ministry of the Internal
I already don’t expect to be released, at least in near future. Today I would hope at least not be forced to “commit suicide” in detention, or to be disabled, as I now know from my own experience that in our independent Uzbekistan everything is done “by oneself.”
Meanwhile, against the background of repression of human rights defenders and journalists, pious believers, political opponents, and ordinary citizens, Uzbekistan recently celebrated the great day of Independence Day.
Dear Kofi Annan, as official Uzbekistan destroys critical voices, puts opponents of the regime in prisons, life in independent Uzbekistan goes on. You can be sure of this by reading an excerpt from an article by Vokhid Lukmon:
Today all the streets of Tashkent City are leading to Independence square. On August 31, 2003 at 7:30 p.m. the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov sets his foot on the square… The Governmental Hymn of Uzbekistan is played. Our compatriots are getting up, pressing hands to their heart, and at the same time singing the hymn. There is inspiration on people’s face and it is as if it spreads throughout the world. And indeed this is the case. In these exciting and happy minutes, one thinks about lots of things. One wants to look at the path traveled, breath freely, and to be proud of the great achievements of its people. Children are dancing… A march is played… Yes, what is reached in centuries we have reached in months, in years. Each past day can be written with golden letters to Independent Uzbekistan’s history. Enemies, who can only make rumors and slander, can’t oppose such progress. Our people know very well indeed who is who. The twelfth year of independence our President declared the year of the Mahalla, peace in Mahalla, peace in the country, comfortable Mahalla, the country is blooming… The holiday program on the square of the country is not only imagination. On this huge stage the past, present and future, the great dream of Uzbek people is reviving. Each melody, each song tells about the achievements of the twelve years. Happy Independence Holiday, my great country!”
–Vohid Lukmon, commentator for Uzbekistan’s Information Agency.
However, in the end I agree with the wishes of Vohid Lukmon:
September 05, 2003
Source: Human Rights Watch office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.