Tajikistan's Use of Torture in Absence of Rule of Law 'Shocking'

In Tajikistan, incentives for police officers to use torture and other ill-treatment are often stronger than the deterrents.
Press Release
July 12, 2012

Tajikistan's Use of Torture in Absence of Rule of Law 'Shocking'

Appalling abuses include electric shocks, suffocation, rape; Lead to deaths in police custody

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International today condemned routine torture, beatings and other ill-treatment in places of detention in Tajikistan. In a new report, Shattered Lives: Torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in Tajikistan, the human rights organization unearthed appalling abuses by police forces, which thrive in a climate of widespread corruption and impunity.

"The torture methods used by the security forces are shocking: electric shocks, boiling water, suffocation, beatings, burning with cigarettes, rape and threats of rape," said Rachel Bugler, Amnesty International’s expert on Tajikistan. "The only escape is to sign a confession or sometimes to pay a bribe."

Such treatment leaves victims suffering not only from the physical injuries such as burst ear drums, broken teeth and dislocated jaws, but also from symptoms of post-traumatic stress such as depression, chronic insomnia, and nightmares.

"Far too frequently, this treatment leads to the deaths of people in police custody," added Bulger. "These cases are not being properly investigated and the alleged perpetrators are not effectively brought to justice."

As torture has only recently been introduced into the criminal code in Tajikistan, official statistics do not reflect the extent of its use. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that victims of torture and their families are often afraid to speak out about their experiences for fear of harassment by the police.

Members of population living in poverty are particularly vulnerable, as they are the least likely to lodge complaints against their perpetrators, but people from all walks of life are at risk.Individuals forcibly extradited back to Tajikistan are routinely subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, as are members of Islamic groups for their perceived threat to national security.

"Senior government officials have frequently stated their commitment to protecting human rights and the rule of law and order," said Bulger."Given the reality of the situation, however, these words ring hollow."

The problem stems from the fact that the incentives for police officers to use torture are often stronger than the deterrents. In Tajikistan, most law enforcement officials are unofficially assessed according to the number of crimes they solve. As a local journalist told Amnesty International, "Torture is a means of income. Police detain, torture and charge people, and then suggest that they can be bought off."

Legal safeguards against torture are often not implemented and detainees are held incommunicado without a lawyer while police conduct the initial interrogations.

In addition, no reliable system of independent medical investigation of torture allegations exists in Tajikistan.A defense lawyer for one detainee said, "We had a case where a defendant displayed burns in court. The judge just said, 'Pull your shirt back down.'"

Until there is an end to the institutional collusion that permits these abuses to occur, impunity for torture and ill-treatment will continue to be the norm.Tajikistan is in urgent need of a clearly defined, independent institution that will provide oversight of security forces.

Notifying detainees of their rights at the moment of detention, informing family members, contacting a lawyer, registering the detention and maintaining proper detention records can provide key safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

"These are the steps that will bring Tajikistan closer to the rule of law and closer to fulfilling its international obligations," concluded Bulger."The country must rebuild the trust of the public in its police force and ensure that it acts in the service of those it claims to protect."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protecaedwart people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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