Azam Farmonov, aged 30, and Alisher Karamatov, aged 41, are prisoners of conscience, detained on 29 April 2006 as they defended the rights of local farmers who had accused district farming officials of malpractice, extortion and corruption. The two men were allegedly tortured, charged with extortion and subjected to an unfair trial where they were denied adequate legal representation.

The two men are regional heads of the independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. They said that after they started investigating the farmers’ allegations and confronted local officials with their findings, some of the farmers were pressured, including through physical intimidation, into accusing the human rights activists of exerting pressure on the farmers to implicate local officials in malpractice.

No prior notice of the start of the men’s trial in June 2006 was given, and their legal representative was given just four days to prepare the defence. His request for more time was turned down and they were sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for extortion under Article 165 of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code.

When Azam Farmonov and Alisher Karamatov were arrested in 2006 they were taken to the pre-trial detention centre in the town of Khavast. They were kept incommunicado for at least a week and alleged that they had been beaten and tortured during that time, including by having a gas mask put over their head and the air supply turned off. They also alleged they were beaten on their legs and heels to force them to sign confessions.

There have been recent serious concerns for the health of Alisher Karamatov, who has been treated for tuberculosis in Sangorodok, a prison hospital facility near Tashkent, since October 2008. He had been subjected to torture, beatings and humiliation by prison guards since 2007 while held at Karshi prison camp and had lost nearly half his body weight. Azam Farmonov continues to be held at Yaslik prison camp.