Uzbek ‘torture’ jail closes

Uzbek ‘torture’ jail closes

Uzbekistan’s notorious Jaslyk prison, where thousands of alleged Islamists and opposition figures were held after government trials based on torture-induced confessions, has closed.

The United Nations in Uzbekistan and the head of the European Union delegation to the country of 32 million, Eduard Stiprais, welcomed the closure of the Jaslyk (Youth) jail.

The prison became symbolic of late Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s brutal rule that made the Central Asian nation one of the world’s most repressive societies.

In 2002, two inmates were reportedly dropped in boiling water, according to an observer who studied photos taken by an inmate’s mother. Many more were purportedly tortured to death each year.

Earlier this month, Karimov’s successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, ordered the closure of Jaslyk.

Observers have questioned the government’s motivation.

“The main motive was the improvement of the country’s international image rather than a sincere wish to start a dialogue with the people, improve their rights,” said Alisher Ilkhamov, an Uzbek-born researcher Soas at the University of London.

“The value of this step will be minimal without a reform of the entire [prison] system throughout the country and access to prison to Red Cross representatives,” he told the media.

The Uzbek authorities continue to defend the prison, dubbed the “House of Torture” and the “Place of No Return”, which was a former Soviet military camp.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesman Kutbiddin Burkhonov said of Jaslyk this month: “It is up to all sanitary and legal standards. It was one of the most modern colonies.”

One former inmate, Muhammad Bekjan, a journalist and activist, said was tortured so severely that at one point he “could not recall the names” of his daughters.

“They interrogated me when I was pregnant, took away my passport,” said his wife, Lonskaya.

Karimov’s government arrested thousands of opposition and religious activists, including Muslims worshipping outside government-controlled mosques.

Each conviction would lead to more arrests of relatives, neighbours, friends and colleagues, said rights advocate Surat Ikramov, who documented thousands of spurious arrests. Jaslyk was set up in 1999 at a former military base in the barren Ustyurt plateau, where the Soviet authorities tested chemical weapons.

Inmates report revolting food and salty, untreated, toxic water, overcrowded barracks riven with tuberculosis and scabies and coffin-sized solitary cells.

Prisoners were forbidden from praying, talking and making eye contact with each other, Jaslyk inmates say.

They were allegedly ordered to sing the Uzbek national anthem, recite Karimov’s writing and endure electrocution and sexual humiliation.

The Uzbek authorities retain a firm grip on the nation. Picture credit: Eurasia Times

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