Two years ago, Kadyr Yusupov jumped in front of a train in the Tashkent metro. Yusupov, who had served as a diplomat in the Soviet Union and then independent Uzbekistan for almost 30 years before leaving the Foreign Ministry in 2009, had long struggled with mental illness. Yusupov survived his suicide attempt, but while he was in the hospital the security services paid him a visit.
After being interrogated for hours, Yusupov’s son Temur was called in to hear him confess, under the watchful eyes of security personnel, to spying for an unnamed Western nation since 2015. Several months later, following a secret trial Yusupov was convicted of treason and sentenced to five and a half years in a prison colony.
“Today is exactly 730 days since my father has been in prison. And although he is not with us, not a day goes by that we don’t think of him,” Yusupov’s eldest son, Babur, told a virtual audience on December 10, 2020.
On behalf of Yusupov, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson on December 10 filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Speaking in the same call, Robertson outlined Yusupov’s case and then summarized the petition, which contends that Yusupov’s detention is arbitrary and his rights have been violated in several different fashions.
The petition, which The Diplomat has reviewed, details Yusupov’s ordeal, arguing that not only was his pre-trial detention arbitrary, but that he was not afforded a fair trial and suffered torture while in custody.
Among the violations outlined: Yusupov was remanded in custody without a clearly stated rationale, and had his detention extended several times until his trial began in the summer of 2019. In that period, he was held incommunicado for more than 100 days while the lawyer his family hired struggled to access his client, instead being told his services had been declined by Yusupov. Yusupov, meanwhile, claims he was tortured by security personnel; he “said they threatened to rape him with a rubber baton, rape his wife and daughter, and arrest his two sons, including a son who lives abroad, by means of extradition, if he did not admit guilt.”
Yusupov’s trial, which began in June 2019, was held behind closed doors. Yusupov’s family has tried to draw international media attention to his case, but journalists have not been given access to court proceedings for information regarding the case by the state. According to the petition, most of the witnesses the defense wished to call were denied, and the defense was also denied the ability to cross-examine key prosecution witnesses. The petition attests that it seems that Yusupov’s conviction rested on his confession, which was elicited after a serious mental health crisis, a suicide attempt, and a long interrogation by security services personnel.
Yusupov was not among those pardoned on December 8 by President Shavkat Mirzioyev on occasion of the country’s Constitution Day.
Robertson said he believed the petition had a high chance of success. The process, he said, “does require Uzbekistan to answer the complaints.” The authorities will, he noted, likely come up with their own explanations that “can be proven wrong, but we wait and see.” He also noted that while the working group’s conclusions are not binding on Uzbekistan — there’s nothing that forces a state to comply — “if it is publicly and authoritatively held up to be in breach of international human rights standards then that has a knock-on effect.”
Uzbekistan is four years into a reform program under Mirziyoyev following the 2016 death of Islam Karimov. A conclusion by the working group against Tashkent would sully its preferred image of progress. Importantly, as Rachel Gasowski of the International Partnership for Human Rights commented in the call, since coming to power Mirziyoyev “has passed a wave of legislation to address some really central human rights problems in the country,” including 2017 legislation that barred the use in court of confessions extracted under torture. But, “at the same time, unless these steps are implemented in practice across the board, and unless these steps can be monitored by independent civil activists, then these rights are not accrued, they’re not stable.”
Gasowski said that the international community had perhaps rushed to welcome legislative changes in Uzbekistan, without waiting to see how they panned out in practice.
While Robertson’s petition on Yusupov’s behalf was filed as an urgent appeal, given Yusupov’s poor health, bad conditions in the prison, and the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear how soon the filing will be considered and what the Uzbek state response will be.
In October 2020, Uzbekistan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time. Yusupov’s case demonstrates the huge gap that remains between laws on paper and the practice of those laws, particularly where the security services are considered and sensitive issues, like treason, are involved. It also exposes the distance between talking about human rights and taking actions that demonstrate a real respect for human rights.