The Torturers of Tashkent

President Islam Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan has survived for 19 years, in no small part because it has repeatedly resorted to police brutality and torture to extract confessions from people who have committed no crime. These tactics have also been used to break the spirits of political opponents and intimidate anyone who might think of becoming one.

Sometimes the police brutality results in innocent deaths, after which the regime tries to cover up the killings. But Karimov has never condemned torture, and he has instituted no measures to prevent it.

A few cases make it to the public eye, but only when things go too far and victims of brutality or torture die. The latest to surface is the case of 30-year-old Muzaffar Tuychiyev, a healthy young man when the police detained him on the evening of March 24 in the region of Tashkent. They then transported Tuychiyev to a police station in Angren, 100 kilometers south of the capital. By the next morning, Tuychiyev was dead. Four police officers are on trial for his killing. His parents say higher-ranking officers are going free.

Talib Yakubov, a human rights advocate in Uzbekistan, says torture is an integral part of the Karimov regime's domestic policy. Torture, he says, enables the government to keep the public in fear and submission.

The government uses the threat of terrorist attacks to justify domestic repression of political opponents and the absence of democratic reforms. But, according to Yakubov, "Only thanks to torture, hundreds and thousands of people admit that they are guilty of religious extremism and terrorism. Without torture, none of them would have incriminated themselves."

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In 2003, the international community tried to persuade Karimov to publicly denounce torture before an annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Two months prior to the gathering, a United Nations special reporter published a paper condemning Uzbekistan for "widespread and systematic" use of torture. The report unleashed a wave of criticism of the EBRD for choosing to hold its meeting in Tashkent.

In response, the EBRD promised to pressure Karimov to condemn torture. Not surprisingly, he has completely dodged the issue. During a speech at the meeting, he boasted that Uzbekistan was a partner of the United States in the war on terror, and for him the war on terror is tantamount to a license to torture in his quest to remain in power.

On May 13, 2005, when government troops in the eastern city of Andijan opened fire from armored personnel carriers on thousands of people demonstrating against poverty and abuse of power, the guns killed hundreds of people. Thereafter, torture in Uzbekistan became routine.

No one has managed to speak to a victim of torture in Uzbekistan. Dozens have died as a result of their ordeals. Most survivors languish in prison. Those who have been released prefer to keep silent about their experiences.

I had a chance to see one of the victims of Uzbekistan's regime. Rasul Haitov was 27 when he was detained in Tashkent with his brother Ravshan, 32, in October 2001. Police officers resorted to torture to get them to admit that they were members of an Islamist party, Hizb-ut Tahrir.

The police choked the brothers with plastic bags. They drove needles under their fingernails, and then tore them out. They sodomized them with glass bottles, beat them up with clubs and threw their bodies around a room. Ravshan died. Rasul barely survived. When I saw him in a courtroom, he was weak and feeble and looked like a broken old man. After two months of treatment, he could still not sit upright.

Galima Bukharbaeva, the editor-in-chief of, is an Uzbek journalist who has been in exile since witnessing the Andijan massacre in May 2005. © Project Syndicate