Response to the comments about a story of Nilufar Rakhimzhanova described in the press release of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia “Uzbekistan: a woman convicted of “terrorism” died in prison” dated 24 September 2014
The discussion turned out to be an interesting one. Allow me to join. It feels very strange to me that after learning about this tragic story you are surprised that Uzbekistan is a Muslim country? As stated in the Constitution, Uzbekistan is a secular state. Although a large number of the population are Muslims. Perhaps you should be asking a different question! A woman, a mother of 4 children died in the women's prison. Why? She was sentenced to imprisonment on unfounded charges of terrorism.
She crossed the border showing no passport, by bribing the border guards. It is not a secret that corruption is rife among the border guards. This encourages people to cross the border illegally in breach of the Article 223 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, this practice is widespread in Uzbekistan. When Nilufar came to stay with her relatives, she went to the Passport Office to get her registered. She told the passport officer that she had a dual citizenship and she lived in Iran, she admitted that this was contrary to the passport control regime in place. The officers in question were obliged to report the case to the authorities, which they duly did. The Prosecutor’s Office instigated a criminal case regarding this instance of crossing the border illegally. Somehow, Nilufar was a “convenient” victim for the investigating officer. She was religious, wore hijab, had Tajik citizenship and lived in Iran permanently. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service, Nilufar is a typical religious extremist and a terrorist. It seemed to her that the Almighty has sent her a kind and gentle investigator, who offered to help. The investigator told her that at the investigative stage of the case she should pay not much attention to what her lawyer might have to say. He claimed to know better how to help her to get her freedom back quicker, because he was an investigator. And, a woman who was frightened, with not much knowledge of her rights or the law, started obeying any orders that the investigating officer gave her. A trial took place. But, did the trial prove her guilt? Who of the observers were present in the hearing? We know that the lawyer took a formalistic approach to her case. The Court sentenced her to imprisonment. There was no appeal of the decision, because they promised her and her relatives that she will get an amnesty and asked not to make a noise about the case.
It is apparent that the case was conducted in violation of the procedural rules. Her relatives in Tashkent are frightened so much that they refuse to reveal the details of what happened even to her husband. They did not want to obtain a copy of either the Sentence or the Death Certificate. Over the last three years, the Uzbek authorities have passed messages via the relatives living in Tashkent to Nilufar’s husband, asking him not to alert the international organisations about her case if he wants her to be released. What is the result? Even after her death, the authorities did not let her husband claim the body.
Nilufar’s story clearly shows that Uzbek authorities use ignorance of the citizens of their legal rights. They deceive and threaten to make them silent and not to approach the human rights activists, international organisations and journalists for help. And then, via the media they control, they create an image of the “Islamic terrorists” using such confused and illiterate people.
Yes, Nilufar was a Muslim wearing a headscarf, she lived in Iran, was an ethnic Tajik originally of Bukhara. But, are they valid reasons for the accusations of terrorism? If she is a terrorist, then why did she not commit any act of terrorism, even though she passed the border illegally three times? She had a Tajik citizenship but did not permanently live in the country. Why was her citizenship of Uzbekistan not taken away? The Uzbek authorities had every reason to do this. No one denies that Nilufar committed a crime under the Article 223 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan (illegal border crossing), which provides up to 10 years in prison. However, apart from this Article she was also convicted for “terrorism”, on the basis of her confessions obtained by deception. And how many such cases are there in Uzbekistan? Even human rights defenders are often charged under the same Article. And, in my opinion, it is important that the public is aware of such cases. Currently, there are millions of Uzbeks living abroad and many of them are ethnic Tajiks, Kazakhs and Karakalpaks. A part of these people living abroad are citizens of several countries, who did not renounce their Uzbek citizenship. If these people hide their other citizenship(s) and violate the Uzbek border control rules, it is important that they understand the consequences. The repressive regime of Uzbekistan makes extensive use of torture and fabrication of charges. I am convinced of this based on my experience of a human rights activities. As in the present case, many victims of the regime take interest in their rights and responsibilities when it is too late. Unfortunately, nothing more can be corrected in the fate of Nilufar. I would like to express my gratitude to her husband and father, who, in these difficult days had the courage to tell us her story so that there would be less of such case. And this is very important.
I did not know Nilufar in person, I just read all the materials available about her and her family’s answers. Her story caught the attention of our organisation, when we started to receive reports of her death. Many of those who are on my Facebook friends list wrote and called us; they are still deeply traumatised by this tragic situation. But now, for whatever reason, they are silent. However, I could not keep silent.
I can not believe that Nilufar was a terrorist. In my opinion, she was a normal Muslim woman. She was 37 years old. She had four very young children. She was raised in a traditional Muslim family, where there is a duty of respect and care for the family and friends. She, like many others, paid little attention to questions of law, it is obvious. Nilufar let the Lord and her husband, who told her not to go to Uzbekistan, take care of all things.
Now her children are left without their mother. This is a tragedy. And her children will know that their mother was convicted of serious charges which neither the investigation nor the Court proved. They did not appeal the sentence. Those who deprived Nilufar of her freedom assured that she would be pardoned and released to reunite with her children. She believed them. It is unlikely that the children will be able to find out the exact cause of death of their mother. It is very likely that based on the testimony of late Nilufar, the Uzbek law enforcement agencies entered her husband and her father in the list of all countries as potential “terrorists”. There is one more question which remains open, did she give this testimony under torture or not?
In the meantime, the border guard who accepted a bribe from Nilufar continues to work at his position, so do the prosecutor, the investigator and the interrogator and the judge, all of whom were the authors of her baseless convictions. They jointly dub the trespassers as “terrorists” and “extremists”. As of today, the system of fabrication of charges is running smoothly and consistently.
And this practice continues. It is possible that as you read this, in Uzbekistan, they are ruining another person's life. We must understand this and do everything possible so that Nilufar’s fate is not repeated. How? By not glossing over the problems, and by studying the problems and looking for legal ways to solve them.