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(Berlin) – A court in Uzbekistan ordered the release of a human rights defender on medical grounds on May 31, 2014. The Uzbek government should meaningfully investigate credible allegations that the activist, Abdurasul Khudoynazarov, was tortured and denied appropriate medical care in prison, and allow him to resume his human rights work.

Khudoynazarov served eight years of a nine-and-a-half-year sentence, during which he allegedly was repeatedly tortured. The Uzbek government should release the numerous other peaceful activists who remain in prison on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said.

“The last nine years have been a living hell for Abdurasul Khudoynazarov and his family,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Uzbek authorities must see to it that those who are alleged to have tortured Khudoynazarov are promptly investigated and brought to justice.”

In November 2013 the United Nations Committee Against Torture – a body of 10 independent experts that monitors governments’ implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – found that the imprisonment of Khudonazarov along with other human rights defenders and peaceful activists was arbitrary and in retaliation for their work. The committee further expressed concern that many had been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Before his arrest Khudoynazarov was the chairperson of Angren-based rights group Ezgulik, Uzbekistan’s only independently registered human rights organization. He was well known for his work combatting corruption among the police and security services.

Khudoynazarov was arrested in July 2005 during a massive crackdown on activists that followed the May 2005 Andijan massacre, when Uzbek government forces shot and killed hundreds of mainly peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Andijan. In January 2006, following a deeply flawed and closed trial, a court in Andijan sentenced him to nine-and-a-half years in prison on charges of extortion, fraud, abuse of power, and falsification of documents that appeared to be trumped up in retaliation for his record of anti-corruption work.

Khudoynazarov’s wife and local rights activists reported to Human            Rights Watch that he was severely beaten and ill-treated during pretrial detention, but the trial judge ignored Khudoynazarov when he tried to report the alleged ill-treatment at his trial. Following his sentencing, in a letter to his lawyer, Khudoynazarov said he was held in solitary confinement and repeatedly beaten for several weeks following his trial, which he believed was in retribution for refusing to confess in court.

Khudoynazarov served six years at a penal colony in Bekobod where, his wife and rights activists told Human Rights Watch, he suffered severe torture. Khudoynazarov’s wife said that prison guards beat him repeatedly, including whipping him with a belt and kicking him in the stomach and kidneys until he lost consciousness. Khudonazarov filed numerous complaints about the torture with the prosecutor’s office and, in 2008, went on a temporary hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment. Out of desperation, Khudoynazarov attempted suicide in early fall 2008.

“Khudoynazarov’s treatment at the hands of Uzbek prison officials violates core human rights commitments, and he deserves justice.” Swerdlow said. “The Uzbek government regularly points to its progress in combatting torture, but these claims ring hollow unless the allegations in this case are meaningfully investigated.”

Khudoynazarov’s health markedly deteriorated during his imprisonment. On May 31 Khudoynazarov was transferred to the Tashkent region oncological hospital, where he was diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer, lymphoma, severe tuberculosis, and acute hemorrhoids. A court ordered his release on medical grounds on the same day.

Among its other recommendations, the UN Committee Against Torture called on Uzbekistan as a matter of urgency to carry out “prompt, impartial, and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and prosecute and punish all those responsible” and to “ensure that high-level officials in the executive branch publicly and unambiguously condemn torture in all its forms, directing this especially to police and prison staff.”

Uzbekistan’s international partners, including the United States and the European Union, should reiterate their calls to Tashkent to address its human rights record, including by releasing all those whose detention is unlawful and arbitrary under international standards, Human Rights Watch said. One place to begin is at the UN Human Rights Council, where members can mark serious concern with Uzbekistan’s systematic noncooperation with UN experts and continuous flouting of its human rights obligations.

Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should underscore their concern about human rights violations in Uzbekistan and the government’s continued refusal of access to 11 UN monitors, including the special rapporteur on torture. The council should establish a dedicated, country-specific mechanism to ensure sustained scrutiny and reporting on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.

“Khudoynazarov’s family and local activists had the courage to campaign for his freedom for many years at great personal risk,” Swerdlow said. “If they can marshal the courage to come forward, Uzbekistan’s international partners should be willing to do the same.”

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