Who will be pardoned by Uzbek Senate?

Inmates at the Jaslyk maximum-security prison in 2008
Hundreds of political prisoners are hoping to go at large under an amnesty, announced by the Senate of Oliy Majlis (parliament) of Uzbekistan on 5 December, but their chances are miserable, human rights activist Surat Ikromov has said.

In honour of the 20th anniversary of the Uzbek constitution, marked on 8 December, the Senate decreed to free a certain category of prisoners.

The amnesty will be applied to women who were under 18 when they committed a crime and men over 60, foreigners, Category I and II disabled people and those suffering heavy illnesses that prevent them from serving their prison terms.

The amnesty will also be applied to people who committed a petty crime, first-time prisoners who do not pose a big social threat, or lesser criminals.

People sentenced for a murder may be freed if the rest of their term does not exceed 2.5 years.

The amnesty gives a chance to be freed to political and religious prisoners who number about 10,000 in Uzbekistan, according to human rights activists.

The Senate decree provides for freedom of first-time prisoners who have sentenced for being involved in banned organisations and committing crimes against peace and security, or against the public security, and have stepped on the path of rehabilitation.

The term of the amnesty is three months since the day of the publication of the decree.

The chairman of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activist of Uzbekistan, Surat Ikromov, considers that this amnesty will not change the situation surrounding political prisoners in the country.

“Amnesty in Uzbekistan is always a window dressing that is rather aimed at giving the appearance of democratic reforms,” Ikromov said. “Therefore, everything is resolved by specific people but not by laws. In this case, this is [President] Islam Karimov and nothing will change without his personal decision.”

“All political prisoners in Uzbekistan, who number over 10,000, have been included in a `black’ list, which is controlled by the president personally while it is hard to believe in his humaneness,” he continued.

According to Ikromov, this list of religious prisoners also includes many Uzbek citizens who have been formally sentenced under criminal articles, but in fact for their professional activity. Nukus-based human rights activist and Uznews.net correspondent Salijon Abdurahmanov, who is serving a 10-year prison term, is among them.

One the one hand, based on the Senate’s amnesty decree, men aged over 60 will be freed, and Abdurahmanov is now 62, but amnesty is not applied to him.

On the other hand, the human rights activist was sentenced for “illegal drug sale in big amounts” in 2008 and this, in line with decree item 8, can be well qualified as “very grave crime”, which means the amnesty will not be applied to Abdurahmanov.

If authorities do not qualify this crime as “very grave” (this wording in Uzbekistan is quite vague and it is unknown exactly what criminal law articles provide for it), then they may fabricate a new, “stock” case against Abdurahmanov under article 221 of the Uzbek criminal code “Disobedience of the penal establishment administration’s lawful requirements”.

At the same time, Abdurahmanov can hope that item 7 “a” of the decree will be used for him. This item provides for a reduction in the remaining term of prisoners who are not qualified for amnesty. In the human rights activist’s case, this is by one third of his term.

But this mitigation is also a personal prerogative of the president, Ikromov said.

In addition to Abdurahmanov, another 30 political prisoners are languishing in Uzbek penal colonies, according to the Committee for the Freedom of the Prisoners of Conscious in Uzbekistan.

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s constitution, which is marked on 8 December, nine human rights organisations, among them Human Rights Watch, Freedom Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the American PEN Centre, urged the Uzbek government to release all political prisoners.