Uzbekistan to close ‘House of Torture’ prison
The Uzbek Interior Ministry called the presidential order to shut down the jail in northwestern Uzbekistan “a truly historic decision that was made to boost the effectiveness of the correctional impact on convicts … as well to promote the country’s positive image abroad”.
The prison in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan, which is known for its cold winters and dry summers, earned nicknames such as “the House of Torture” and “the place of no return.”
Some returning Jaslyk prisoners have described torture, including electric shocks, sexual assault, pulling out prisoners’ fingernails and long periods of solitary confinement without food or water.
The prison was opened by the then authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, at a former Soviet military base – which had reportedly been used to test chemical warfare protection equipment – to incarcerate thousands arrested following the 1999 bombings in the capital, Tashkent, that the authorities blamed on “religious extremists”.
The site used to be next to the Aral Sea but the once beautiful body of water has shrunk dramatically because of excessive damming of its supply rivers and ecological changes.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch estimated that Jaslyk housed 5,000 to 7,000 inmates. In 2005, an IWPR report said there were more than 500 prisoners.
For many years, international human rights organisations and the United Nations have called Uzbekistan to shut the prison.
The Uzbek media has reported that the prison’s remaining inmates will be transferred to other jails.
Mirziyoyev became president after Karimov’s death was announced in September 2016 and has implemented reforms in Uzbekistan after accusations of widespread rights abuses under Karimov.
Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow said: “The news that the president of Uzbekistan has ordered the closure of the Jaslyk prison colony is undoubtedly positive news.”
He said Mirziyoyev should continue on the reform path but also mentioned the need for Jaslyk survivors to tell their stories.
“[The president] should allow those prisoners that spent many years, some almost two decades in Jaslyk, to tell their stories publicly so that all of Uzbekistan can learn these lessons and never repeat them again.”
The Aral Sea has been shrinking for years. The Uzbek authorities continue to repress the population despite recent reforms. Picture credit: Eurasia Times