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Uzbek Law Enforcement Ups The Terror On Citizenry

The current situation is so bad that even the president has come out to criticize the lawlessness of police.
The current situation is so bad that even the president has come out to criticize the lawlessness of police.

The tales are appalling.

Surprise, unexplained vehicle checks by armed men. Masked men appearing at sunrise to take people away, not to be seen again until their corpses are delivered to relatives. A man slain and his body chopped up -- parts of it burned, others thrown into a river.

Terror thrives in Uzbekistan, and it is the representatives of state law enforcement agencies who are responsible.

Uzbekistan has long had a bad reputation owing to the ill-treatment of people taken into custody by law enforcement agencies. It reputedly is a place where prisoners can be boiled alive. (That's actually unfair. Only one has been allegedly boiled alive, although countless others who have died in Uzbek prisons are believed to have been subjected to physical and mental abuse lasting for weeks, months, or sometimes years before they succumbed to their injuries and despair.)

But lately the country's police, security forces, and prison guards seem to have become even more brutal than usual, for reasons that are not clear.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, has been following the trail of apparently extrajudicial, and criminal, punishment meted out by representatives of law enforcement organizations.

Ozodlik reported on March 9 about a businessman in the Besharyk district of Uzbekistan's eastern Ferghana Province who was killed and his body taken to a field where the head was cut off, placed in plastic bag, and thrown into a nearby river. The rest of the body was burned and put in a shallow grave.

The alleged perpetrator was a senior police lieutenant who had detained the businessman, then for some reason shot the suspect dead in the police car and fled to the secluded field to dispose of the body.

A farmer spotted the policeman, who was wearing his uniform, as the lieutenant was leaving the scene. The lieutenant told the farmer he was burying a dead sheep in the field. The police officer then went to town, bought a sheep, came back to the field where he proceeded to kill the sheep, dig up the remains of the businessman and throw them into the river, and bury the dead sheep in the grave.

The police lieutenant was arrested and charged on March 6.

Beaten, Tortured To Death

Then there is 44-year-old Bukhara businessman Ilhom Ibodov and his 48-year-old brother Rahim. The two owned an automobile sales business. They were arrested by the National Security Service (SNB) in August 2015 on charges of illegal financial activities.

Their mother, Hursand Rajabova, told Ozodlik at the beginning of March that less than one month after their arrest, she was told Ilhom had died of a heart attack. Rajabova has photos that she says are pictures of her son's body and which indicate Ilhom was beaten before he died. Older brother Rahim was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Younger sister Dilfuza Ibodova told Ozodlik Rahim told her the jailors would bring them both to the same room and beat one while the other was forced to watch.

Qishloq Ovozi also recently reported that the body of 34-year-old Sharof Nasibov, who sold car parts in Bukhara, was delivered to his family in January. Nasibov and his brother had been detained in December 2015 for tax evasion, a charge the Nasibov brothers denied. Relatives said Sharof Nasibov's body showed signs of torture, including having had his fingernails torn out.

In February there were reports that the body of 42-year-old Mahmujon Hasanov was delivered to his relatives in Andijon Province. A hastily arranged funeral was held under the watchful eye of security agents. No cause of death was given. Hasanov was serving a nine-year term in the notorious Navoi prison for being a member of the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Ozodlik learned at the start of March that armed men wearing black masks and clothing staged raids in the Altyaryq district of Ferghana Province on February 16. Starting at 6 a.m., as the faithful were heading to morning prayers, the masked men arrived and over the course of a few hours arrested 11 men, between the ages of 25 and 34, most in the village of Tynchlyk ("peaceful" in Uzbek].

The suspects were taken from their homes with hoods over their heads to waiting vehicles. It was unclear exactly who the masked men were -- police or SNB -- but Ozodlik learned from sources in the area that the 11 were charged with membership in the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Rumors Are King

There have been lesser incidents, such as the sudden interest in "damas" vans in the southern city of Termez, on the Afghan border. These vans are used as minibuses in the city. Ozodlik reported on March 11 that people in Termez said damas vans were regularly being stopped at roadside checkpoints in and around Termez, the vehicles searched, and documents of passengers checked.

One person told Ozodlik that no explanation was being given to the public about why this is happening. The source said that, in the absence of information, rumors were circulating around Termez that it's part of a counterterrorist operation; that people have already been arrested; and that police are looking for explosives that might have been planted in the vans.

A source with local law enforcement told Ozodlik that none of this was true and police were searching for the driver of a damas van who hit a pedestrian and fled the scene.

Ozodlik received a video on March 2 that showed police in Samarkand trying to force a woman into the trunk of a police vehicle. The video clip lasts only 14 seconds -- the person recording the incident on their mobile phone was worried about being seen by the police. But the person said they later heard that the woman, carrying a child, was walking around begging for money and police had come and taken her child from her, which caused the woman to become agitated.

The Uzbek authorities have meted out some tough justice in the past. There are many, many allegations of abuse, failure to observe due process of law, convictions based on flimsy evidence, coerced confessions, false witnesses, false charges, and so forth. Some periods have been worse than others.

But this latest round of brutality comes after President Islam Karimov, in an address marking Constitution Day in early December, voiced rare criticism of the police.

"Our people can tolerate all kinds of difficulties, but they cannot tolerate injustice," Karimov said. "It is no secret that in our daily can often notice such facts as nonobservance [of laws] and gross violation, in practice, of norms and provisions of the legislation and of the principle of justice, as well as callous attitude of law enforcement and supervising bodies to their duties, which leads to unlawful actions."

Based on material from Ozodlik

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier writes the Qishloq Ovozi blog and appears regularly on the Majlis podcast for RFE/RL.