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Uzbek Poet Jailed, Tortured

Rights Group Fears for Mamdali Makhmudov's Life

Human Rights Watch cautioned that imprisoned Uzbek poet Mamadali Makhmudov is in dire physical condition and at possible risk of death. Makhmudov, 57, was jailed in 1999 for supporting a banned opposition political party.

Makhmudov recently received a distinguished Hellman-Hammett award, which honors writers who have suffered political persecution.

In August 1999, the writer was sentenced together with five others to fourteen years in prison on trumped-up charges of participating in a "criminal society" and using the mass media to publicly insult the President of Uzbekistan, among other charges. At his trial, Makhmudov stated openly that he had been tortured, and gave further detail about the abuses in a written appeal to international organizations. Torture and mistreatment is rampant in Uzbek prisons, but Makhmudov is believed to have been subjected to particularly harsh treatment in retribution for his candor.

Recent reports indicate that in May, Makhmudov—together with one of his co-defendants—was transferred to the notorious prison in the northern city of Jaslyk, known among Uzbek human rights activists as "the place from which no one returns."

In Jaslyk, Makhmudov is said to be suffering from pain in his chest, sides, and back—where he has been beaten—and to have lost consciousness in prison several times. He is reported to face punitive treatment, including being forced to sit crouching for extended periods of time with his hands behind his head. He has received inadequate food and medical treatment.

The writer's work was suppressed during the Soviet period, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Uzbek government honored Makhmudov with the Cholpan Prize for his most famous novel, The Immortal Cliffs. The Cholpan Prize is an award named for a poet killed in Stalin's purges. Makhmudov soon fell out of favor with the authoritarian government of Uzbekistan, however, when he supported fellow writer Mohammed Solih's bid for the presidency in 1991. Solih heads the opposition political party "Erk" (Freedom), which is now banned in Uzbekistan.

Makhmudov was first arrested in 1994 when his house was raided and police produced a firearm as evidence that he was guilty of terrorism. This charge was greeted with widespread disbelief and dropped. Next he was charged with embezzlement and sentenced to four years in prison. An international campaign was mounted on his behalf, and when no evidence was produced he was amnestied and released. In February 1999, after a series of car bombs exploded in Tashkent, plainclothes agents arrested Makhmudov on the street and held him incommunicado for three months. He "reappeared" in May to face the charges that have currently landed him in prison. The Uzbek government has accused Erk party leader Solih, now a refugee in Europe, of masterminding the February bombings—a charge Solih denies.

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