In Uzbekistan, the police arrested human rights defender Uktam Pardaev on November 16, 2015, following Uktam’s documentation and reporting of forced labor during the 2015 cotton harvest. The Uzbek authorities released Mr. Pardayev on January 30th, 2016, after convicting him to a 5-6 year prison term on fabricated charges, and then changing the sentence to 3 years of probation. Under probation, Uktam must register at the police every second and fourth Saturday and obtain police permission to leave his hometown of Jizzakh and to leave his home after 10 pm.
The following is the transcript from an interview with Uktam Pardayev following his release from detention, by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights:
Police in the Jizzakh region arrested you on November 16, and you were not released for nearly two months. Where did they detain you?
When they brought me to the police department, there was an investigator named Anarbayev and other officers of the Department of Internal Affairs counter-terrorism unit and representatives of the prosecutor’s office. There were 7 – 8 officers in total, and I was alone. Everyone is particularly vulnerable in the basement of a detention facility. You become useless, and your life is not worth a penny. No one is going to respond to your justifiable claims.
On December 26, I was taken to Khavast jail. In the beginning, I was placed there in a cell with 30 – 40 other people. Then they called out each of us one by one from the cell and examined us. They summoned me too for this examination and said to me: “Take off your clothes!” When I started taking off my clothes, they said: “Why are you still not undressed?” and began to beat me in the chest. They dragged me by my hair throughout the room, at the same time hitting me on the chest, in the kidneys, the head. The blows were very strong. This was on December 26th.
Who beat you, and how many of them were there?
Two prison officers beat me. Then I spent 16 days in cell No.7 of the Havastkoy prison. I heard other prisoners screaming throughout the night. What was the reason? Even those who admitted to the crime during the detention, the investigators were trying to make them take the blame for other unsolved crimes through pressure and beatings.
When they brought us to the Khavast prison, officers continued threatening, beating and pressing detainees to confess to crimes they did not commit.
You were staying in cell No. 7. What was your cell like?
The cell was very narrow. Well, I can say between 2 and 5 meters. It was designed for four people. We were five people (in the cell).
In the temporary detention prison in Dustlik district, the mattresses were terrible. It was impossible to even look at them. The cells were very cold. I was put into the first chamber for 10 days. It was the coldest one. My feet and socks were constantly getting wet, and when I went to sleep the whole body began to ache. It was impossible to endure. Some people next to me even urinated under themselves at night while sleeping.
How was Khavast prison?
There were no abuses and beating in cell 7 in the Khavast prison, where I stayed. However, I heard that in other cells, if you cannot sing the anthem of Uzbekistan, the officers were writing reprimands or warnings and sending them to the court. Based on that, the judges may add another six months to a jail term at the trial.
I heard that they use torture mainly against those arrested who are suspected of religious extremism, considering them as “enemies of the motherland.”
What kind of torture, for example?
I heard from other prisoners that they dip their heads in a barrel of cold water, beat their soles with their hands and legs bound, make the prisoners wear a gas mask, and also use torture with electricity.
What do you think, what is the reason why you were released?
Of course, if my family, friends, and colleagues would not have notified the international organizations and embassies, and if there were no support from them, I would have stayed in prison for a long time or would be eliminated.
The guys who were in the cell with me told me that guards or interrogators were using torture against them to make them confess. A common way was to put a gas mask on the head. They tie both hands and put a gas mask on the person’s head.
Why do they tie the person’s hands?
So the person does not take off the mask when he runs out of breath. If they did not bind the hands, the person being tortured will attempt to remove the mask, so therefore they tie his hands. They became professional in their “business.” They know when to remove the mask. They take off the mask the moment when a person is just starting to lose consciousness from lack of air. When he regains consciousness, they put on the gas mask on his head again.
How many times do they give food to the prisoners? What is the quality of the food?
In the prison of the Dustlik district, there is a sign that says detainees get a loaf of bread and a portion of soup. But they provided half a loaf of bread and a half portion of food. In the Khavast prison, they provided one loaf of bread and five meals per day. Well… the quality is not good. Meals are just a name. It was possible to eat only lunch, because it was soup, a liquid.
The worst thing is that I was imprisoned for nothing. I worked in this area for many years. I have never done anything bad. I have never taken money from anyone. I was imprisoned for 57 days on false charges. If I had committed some crime, I would not be so badly hurt. If so I would think that since I committed a crime, I must me made accountable for it. But when you are imprisoned for nothing, it is very sad. It is a heavy psychological stress for a human.