The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in a recent opinion that the detention of Kadyr Yusupov, a former Uzbek diplomat who was detained in late 2018, is arbitrary. The U.N. body has asked that the government of Uzbekistan release him.
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, jumped in front of a train in the Tashkent metro on December 3, 2018. Yusupov survived, but while he was in the hospital the security services paid him a visit. After being interrogated for hours, he allegedly confessed to 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.
In December 2020, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for a review of the case, arguing that Uzbek authorities had arbitrarily detailed Yusupov, violating Uzbekistan’s human rights commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The petition meticulously outlines the case, making the case that Yusupov’s detention lacks a legal basis and that his trial was unfair. Some of the violations laid out are administrative, for example, a lack of paperwork supporting the government’s repeated extension of Yusupov’s pre-trial detention and repeated delays of the trial. Others are more serious: Yusupov was held incommunicado for 135 days following his initial arrest, with only one, non-private, meeting with a lawyer. Yusupov also has claimed he was tortured at the hands of the security services. In addition, Yusupov was initially given a state-appointed lawyer who presented himself as a private lawyer and told his family the case was hopeless.
According to the working group’s recent opinion, the Uzbek government was late in responding to its requests to provide detailed information about Yusupov’s case by March 12. Tashkent’s reply arrived on April 23 and the Uzbek government did not request an extension of the deadline, although it could have done so. The working group’s procedures are strict, and it stated that it “cannot accept the response as if it had been presented within the time limit.” The working group puts the burden of proof on the government to refute the allegations and justify its actions. In its discussion of the case, the working group makes clear its disappointment in Uzbekistan’s late reply, interpreting it as a choice not to challenge the serious allegations made. The Uzbek government’s reply, among other complaints by the working group, “failed to provide any account of the way in which the arrest of Mr. Yusupov took place” and “provided no explanation as to the reasons for the imposition of pre-trial detention.”
The working group’s opinion finds Yusupov’s detention arbitrary under two categories, arguing that it “lacks a legal basis as he was not promptly presented before a judicial authority, was held incommunicado, his personal items were seized without a warrant,” his pretrial detention violated Covenant article 9 and Yusupov was unable to challenges his detention. The working group also determined that Yusupov’s rights to a fair trial were violated, including his right to be presumed innocent and his “right not to be compelled to confess guilt.” Ultimately, the working group called for Yusupov to be released immediately.
In a statement following the publishing of the working group’s opinion Robertson, the lawyer who submitted the petition on Yusupov’s behalf, said:
This is a most damning criticism of a country that is pretending to the West that it respects the rule of law but is in reality allowing its secret police and its lickspittle judges to behave brutally. The conduct of its security police was disgusting as they tried to force a confession from a man recovering from a mental breakdown and then for 5 months denied him all contact with his family and his lawyer of choice. The judges behaved like legal lickspittles, refusing to investigate the torture to which he had been subjected. On these findings, the prosecutor general should resign as he is clearly guilty of dereliction of duty.
Robertson also drew attention to the Uzbek state’s attempt to head off criticism of denying Yusupov access to a lawyer by inserting a “state stooge to help him plead guilty.” He highlighted “forcing prisoners to accept the services of lawyers who are hand-in-glove with police or the security service” as common in “quasi-authoritarian countries.”
In October 2020, Uzbekistan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time. But as the Yusupov case — and other cases, such as that of Miraziz Bazarov — illustrate, a huge gap remains between Uzbekistan’s laws on paper and their implementation in practice.