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By Jamila Sujud
DUSHANBE – “The police stormed into my apartment at midnight without any explanation and demanded my ID”, said Dmitry, 45, who refused to give his last name. “Then they started beating me up”.
His horrified wife pleaded for them to stop.
Dmitry, a Khujand resident, apparently has plenty of company in Tajikistan. The absence of a law expressly prohibiting torture and the reluctance of victims to report brutal treatment have encouraged police mistreatment of detainees, human rights activists, and alleged torture, victims say. The World Organisation against Torture is one of several groups that point to the absence of a legal ban on the practise.
After the police left, Dmitry asked the League of Women Lawyers (LWL) for help. The group complained to the Khujand prosecutor's office. The prosecutor later charged several officers with exceeding their authority.
His story is not isolated. The league received 124 complaints of alleged torture by police between January 2008 and July 2009.
League Executive Director Zebo Sharifova said, “Police officers know little, if anything at all, about the international standards (of detainee treatment)”.
“Tajik legislation fails to define the very notion of torture in a manner ... consistent with international standards”, lawyer Sergei Romanov said.
Gulchekhra Sharipova, an expert on torture issues, stressed the importance of training police.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Tajikistan offers training courses for police, but few officers have taken those classes.
The country can’t afford compulsory training for police, said Tajik Ombudsman Zarif Alizoda.
Tatyana Khatyukhina, a lawyer with the Human Rights Centre in Khujand, said, “Most often, police pressure detainees psychologically and torture them to make them admit guilt”.
Matlob, a physician who refused to give her last name, had a run-in with police who accused her of taking bribes. They began searching her roughly in a hospital room, she said.
“Among those men, a woman in a doctor’s smock started to undress me right in front of them”, she said, calling the ordeal “unbearable”.
She confessed falsely to taking bribes, she said, after police threatened that she might never see her children again.
Some officers even quit because of the rampant torture. “I couldn’t stand anymore the humiliating treatment of detainees by my colleagues. I quit ... because I lacked the courage to resist them”, said a former Dushanbe-based police detective who asked to remain anonymous.
“Introducing a notion of ‘moral torture’ would make sense”, said Maj. Gen. Tokhirjon Normatov, Tajik Interior Ministry chief of staff.
Those who suffer abuse often stay silent. A jailed suspect might be afraid to open up to a defence attorney, fearing even more abuse after the lawyer leaves.
“Victims are reluctant to request assistance, even from human rights defence centres, doubting that they can really help”, Khatyukhina said.
Dushanbe resident Nazira, who refused to give her last name, turned to the group of woman lawyers for help in proving that an investigator tortured and sexually harassed her. “But the complaints to the Prosecutor General’s Office have been left unaddressed”, Sharifova said.
Not every battle with the authorities ends in defeat for a torture victim. Dmitry, of Khujand, found a sympathetic prosecutor.
And after 15-year-old Nodyr’s parents complained to the league that three police officers had beaten him to force a confession to a jewellery theft, the Dushanbe prosecutor sent the three officers to prison for two years each.
The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, established in September 2009, has been trying to help victims. Ombudsman Zarif Alizoda has received five complaints about suspects being tortured. “Many people still don’t know what the ombudsman’s work is all about”, he said.
The OSCE said Tajik authorities recognise they have a problem. In 2009, the courts prosecuted 67 police officers for unlawful behaviour, an increase from the 50 prosecutions in 2008.
Official comments on the issue, other than Normatov’s assessment of “moral torture”, were not available.
Romanov pointed out that Tajikistan has not yet endorsed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Sharipova sees extensive media coverage as one remedy. And the problem has not gone unreported. From 2006-08, the Tajik media published a number of reports on how to behave during arrest, but follow-up research never occurred, according to Freedom House.
Sharifova suggested developing a set of public oversight methods as a prerequisite for setting up a national public oversight committee.
“Introducing civil law procedures to regulate compensation to victims of torture and of other brutal treatment ... would help too”, Romanov said.