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Uzbekistan: New report denounces 'ghoulish' secret executions

The report, Justice only in heaven: the death penalty in Uzbekistan, shows that the death penalty is secretly carried out in scores of cases every year despite the fact that torture of criminal suspects leading to false confessions is common and corruption in the justice system is endemic.

There are no clear guidelines for imposing death sentences in Uzbekistan, which as a result appear to be imposed arbitrarily, including in political cases and ones involving supposed 'Islamic fundamentalists.' In at least nine cases in the last two years, executions have gone ahead even when the United Nations had intervened obliging Uzbekistan to halt the execution.

In Uzbekistan, secrecy dominates all aspects of the death penalty's use. Death penalty statistics are 'classified information', Supreme Court judges refuse to disclose information on sentencing patterns, the Clemency Commission's work is shrouded in secrecy, and relatives of those on death row are commonly not told of executions. Relatives have been told to come back another day when visiting a relative who in fact had already been executed days before. Prison guards have reportedly even accepted parcels for prisoners who were already dead.

It appears that death row prisoners are themselves in constant fear of immediate execution, becoming extremely unsettled and frightened ahead of visits from relatives fearing that they were being taken out to be shot. Many of those whose death sentences have been commuted have not been informed and have been led out of death row thinking that execution was imminent.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'Uzbekistan's secretive use of the death penalty is riddled with human rights abuse - from torture of suspects, endemic corruption in the justice system and arbitrary and unaccountable sentencing.

'Perhaps the most distressing aspects of a dreadful situation is the fact that relatives of the condemned are not told the truth about their loved one's death - with even the place of burial kept a secret.

'Because prisoners are executed in secret, relatives are not even able to say goodbye to their loved ones - a cruel double punishment that is itself a form of extended ill-treatment.

'We call on the Uzbek authorities to halt this ghoulish practice and impose a moratorium on executions - for the sake of those on death row, their families and for the reputation of Uzbekistan.'

Though official death penalty statistics in Uzbekistan do not exist, Amnesty International has documented an average of more than 30 death sentences imposed per year since 1999. One independent Uzbek organisations estimates the figure at 200 per year, while another sets it as high as 400 each year.

Since 1998 at least 38 - and possibly many more - death sentences have been imposed against political prisoners, in particular against those that the Uzbek authorities denounce as 'religious extremists' and 'Islamic fundamentalists.'

Suspected supporters and members of banned secular opposition parties and movements - such as Erk and Birluk, and of banned Islamist parties and movements - like Hizb-ut-Tahrir - have been arrested, tortured and in many cases sentenced to long prison terms after unfair trials. Death sentences have been laid down in numerous such cases.

Amongst other things, Amnesty International's report calls on the authorities of Uzbekistan to:

  • impose a moratorium on the death penalty and commute the sentences of all those presently on death row
  • ensure that relatives of those on death row are informed of execution dates, allowed adequate time to say goodbye to their loved ones and to collect the prisoner's body and bury the body
  • make public all information relating to the death penalty, including directives and legislation and information on sentencing criteria
  • replace the Clemency Commission with a purely civilian body

Cases detailed in the report include:

  • Refat Tulyaganov, a 21-year-old, executed 2002. His mother attempted to visit him on a scheduled visit on 24 January 2002, only to be told that prisoners were bathing that day and that she would have to return another day. When she returned the following day she was told that he had been executed - the death certificate in fact gave as the date of death 18 January, six days before her first visit. The case was actively under consideration by the United Nations at the time, with the UN having strongly urged the authorites not to carry out the execution during this process.
  • Dmitry Chikunov, a 28-year-old, executed in 2000 after being sentenced to death for involvement in two murders. His mother attempted to visit him on a scheduled visit on 11 July 2000, only to be told to come back the following day. On 12 July she was told that her son had been executed on 10 July. Dmitry had alleged that he was severely tortured at the Tashkent Regional Police headquarters after his arrest, including by being threatened with rape and undergoing a mock execution.
  • Sobir Soibbayev, a father of five, executed on 1 October 1999, less than two months after being sentenced to death after a conviction for 'premeditated, aggravated murder', 'terrorism' and 'attempt to overthrow the constitutional order of Uzbekistan.' The family was not informed of the execution until late December (longer than the gap between sentence and execution) when the death certificate was sent to them. In this case the defendant's state-appointed lawyer demanded money from the family for a copy of the trial verdict document.

The report is available online at:

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