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A brief autobiography

05.11.2007    source:
Mukhammadsolykh Abutov
The author of these autobiographical notes is Uzbekistan national Mukhammadsolykh Abutov who served eight and a half years in Uzbekistan labour camps for his religious beliefs. This document requires no commentary; it needs only to be read – and please pass it on to others

The Islam Karimov GULAG

Preface to the memoirs of an Uzbek prisoner

The author of these autobiographical notes is Uzbekistan national Mukhammadsolykh Abutov who served eight and a half years in Uzbekistan labour camps for his religious beliefs.

This document requires no commentary; it needs only to be read. What Abutov went through has been the fate of thousands of his compatriots, citizens of a country with which enlightened Europe is seeking to establish “constructive dialogue”, and for this reason is removing the sanctions imposed after on Uzbekistan after the Andijon Tragedy..

«Stalin would have probably been jealous if he’d found out that there are people in this world even better than him at frightening people» - we read in Mukhammadsolykh’s testimony.

Three years after his release, Abutov is again in custody – this time in Russia since the Uzbekistan authorities are again persecuting him for religious motives and demanding his extradition.

On 13 May 2007 he was detained in Moscow region by Krasnogorsk officers … of the Service of National Security [SNB] of Uzbekistan which brought him to the Krasnogorsk Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Having discovered that his name was not on the international wanted list, the police officers promised to cover the “remiss work” of their Uzbek guests if the necessary documents were sent from Uzbekistan.  They stated furthermore that next time the guests “shouldn’t come empty-handed”. According to Mukhammadsolykh, the conversation took place in his presence.

He was soon presented with an Uzbek warrant from 26.02.2007 for his arrest on the charge that in 1998, while serving a sentence in a penal colony in Uzbekistan, he allegedly organized a religious extremist organization, consisting of himself and two other prisoners.

The author of the memoirs writes about what the “religious extremist organization” was – these were people subjected to vicious torture who prayed together and dreamed of being released.

From pre-trial detention centre [SIZO] 50/10 Mozhaisk where Abutov was put for the period of the extradition investigation, he sent an application to the Migration Service office for the Moscow region asking to be granted refugee status in the Russian Federation.

All of his predecessors have received notifications of rejections of such applications. The grounds given are always virtually the same, regardless of the region of Russia where the application for asylum is being considered. It boils down to the statement that the applicant has no grounds for receiving refugee status and is trying to escape punishment for a crime committed.

The Federal Migration Service works on the assumption that “in accordance with the Constitution (Article 31) and the laws of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the country’s citizens, regardless of their nationality, social position, religion and political convictions, have equal civic rights and freedoms. In general these norms are fully enough implemented in practice” (a document from the FMS of Russia, February 2007).  This implacable conviction is confirmed by the view of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia which “does not have any documented evidence of persecution of Uzbekistan nationals <> by the Uzbek authorities on the basis of race, religion, citizenship, nationality and political convictions, nor documented evidence of the use of torture and other ill-treatment of people facing criminal prosecution.” (Letter from MFA of the RF to the FMS on 26.02.2007).

The autobiography of Mukhammadsolykh Abutov is the best commentary against these assertions just as against the responses of the Prosecutor General of Russia to all appeals from the Civic Assistance Committee regarding the unacceptability of the use of torture to remand and convicted prisoners in this country. Both in these letters, and in the rulings on extradition, the Prosecutor General refers to assurances provided by the Uzbekistan side, which the world-renowned organizations Human Rights Watch has correctly said are “not worth the paper they’re written on”.

In concluding this preface, we would merely point out the obvious: by handing over to the Uzbekistan regime people persecuted on political or religious grounds, Russia becomes an accomplice to the crimes.

“Tell me who your friend is, and I’ll tell you who you are”.

    Yelena Ryabinina,

The Civic Assistance Committee


Mukhammadsolykh Abutov  A brief autobiography

  1. Accursed be he

who from time immemorial

has tried to reform

a person through prison!

Mukhammadsolykh Abutov

Part 1

  I was born on 27 May 1969 in Turtkul.[1].  My father, now deceased, worked vulcanizing rubber, while my mother was a cleaner. They were both deeply religious. They were also related, children of a brother and sister. Their parents were repressed during the Stalin repressions because they were versed in Islamic religion. My father was born in 1928 and died in 2006, on 12 March. My mother was born in 1934. As well as old age, she suffers from sugar diabetes and tuberculosis.

  I began school in 1975 and finished in 1985.  Those were years under Soviet rule and of course we were taught communist ideology at school.  I only now understand how hard it was for children of the Muslim people in the USSR. The communists forcibly stripped our people of their faith, killed scholars, destroyed books and so forth. Yet our parents still remained believers and within the family they brought their children up on the basis of Islamic ideology which ran counter to the school subjects and teachers.

  I still remember occasions when teachers in school told us that there was no God; that the world had simply appeared and so on. Coming home, children immediately began asking their parents if it really was like that. And our parents told us not to believe them, that there was a creator of all existence, the single great Allah. That was the contradictory atmosphere in which my worldview formed. I developed an instinctive hatred for the communists.

  From childhood I learned to recite prayers. I mean I learned some poems from the Qu’ran and some prayers off by heart. I was less than 12 at the time. Later, every three months my parents sent me for the holidays to relatives in the village, to an old man called Said Makhmud who was the Imam of his collective farm. That man who died aged 92 in 2004, taught me to read the Qu’ran in Arabic (may Allah bless him!)  As well as reading the Qu’ran, I also learned to read the manuscripts of Turkic books using the Arabic alphabet which our ancestors used in pre-Revolutionary times. I learned the poems of the great Alisher Navoyi, Fizuli and many others in the original, i.e. in the Arabic alphabet which is very different from the Arabic language. I myself began writing poems in the classical “gazelle” genre and chose the pseudonym “Sakhvy”. And since then I have been writing verse although it’s never been published.

  I did my military service from 1987-1989 in the Moscow region town of Serpukhov.  After demobilization in 1990 I went to Moscow wanting to apply to get into the journalism faculty of MGU [Moscow State University].  But they demanded articles published in the newspaper – articles or poems which I didn’t have. I even went to MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations] to find out what the situation was there.  There were only two faculties - International Relations and International Economic Relations. In each there were four subjects which I didn’t know well. I couldn’t “pass” Russian language or maths and so I didn’t dare submit my application. I was also in the Institute of Asian and African Countries, not far from the Kremlin. I was interested in literature or the Arabic language. In the end I went to Leningrad and applied to the Leningrad State University, to the Eastern Faculty. That was in the summer of 1990. I was the only candidate from Central Asia. I was young then, 20, and I didn’t know Russian well. There were four subjects: a foreign language (in the Arabic “Faculty”), Russian History 1886-1969;  Literature (I had studied at a national school, and here I was given Gorky’s play “On the bottom”, that I’d never even heard of). Anyway, I didn’t get in and went to Tashkent. And there also I tried to enter the Languages and Literature Faculty of the Tashkent State University to, but again couldn’t pass the exams.

I stayed there and found a job at SU-10 as a fitter. I lived in a hostel and in the evenings after work and at the weekends I went to the Mosque “Tukhtaboy vaccha”. The Imam there was Obidkhon Sabitkhanovych Nazarov (he’s in Sweden now).  He was also young then, about thirty, maybe less. That was when I learned to read the Qu’ran properly – according to the rules. It was there that I found out about the differences between the “two movements”. The old orthodox one was called the Hanafites. The new movement was “Akhli Sunna” or the Wahhabites.  The politics changed and the attitude to religion with it over the entire territory of the Soviet Union – this was a transitional period. Soon, in August 1991, there was the coup which resulted in the USSR ceasing to exist. All the republics became independent. During that period hundreds of mosques and medera were opened. The authorities could not control the situation and various religious movements emerged, together with political parties and criminal gangs. That was everywhere, over the whole area of the former Soviet Union, and in Uzbekistan as well. At that time I went to study in Andijon where there were a lot of famous and authoritative Islamic scholars. And those scholars were also divided into two positions. The first were those that had received their education in Bukhara and had worked as Imams under the Soviet regime. They were more cautious and held out against the changes. They hadn’t criticized the former communist regimes and they didn’t touch the new ones either.  The second, in their Friday sermons, spurred on by the ideas of freedom of speech, began criticizing the past regimes and their unjust attitude to all Muslims etc. Of those scholars almost all had received their knowledge not in a medera, but privately. Such Imams enjoyed great popularity and standing among the population. It was they who the officials and law enforcement agencies in the Republic hated. The most famous of these Imams were:

  1. Abduvali Mirzayev[2], Imam from Andijon. On 27 August 2005 he and his travelling companion Ramazan disappeared from Tashkent Airport.
  2. Abdulakhad, Imam of the “Gumbaz” Mosque in the city of Namangane. He was sentenced in 1998 to 17 years imprisonment.
  3. Mukhammadrazhab-kori (Toshtemir), Imam of the Kokandsk “Khavakand”. Mosque  In 1993 he was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment and then in 1998 he was retried and received a 20 year sentence.
  4. Obidkhon Nazarov[3], Imam of the Tashkent Mosque “Tukhtaboy vaccha”; he was able to flee Uzbekistan. .
  5. Tulkin-kori, Imam of the “Chukursai” Mosque, he also fled Uzbekistan.

There were many others, less well-known – they were called “Wahhabites”.  And those Imams whom the authorities had supported, those called “Hanafites” were also repressed. Many of them fled abroad, while some got prison sentences. And then many members of political parties and movements, for example, Mukhammad Salykh, leader of the “Erk” party and Abdurakhim Pulat, leader of the people’s movement “Birlik”, fled the republic. A lot of writers, journalists, poets and political activists, were also repressed because of their political views. I personally saw:

  1. Samandar Kokanov, deputy and oil magnate
  2. Anvar, a Tashkent banker who died in “Sangarod”[4] in Tashkent;
  3. Rustam Usmanov, owner of one of the first commercial banks in Andijon;
  4. Mamadali Makhmudov, writer and member of the “Erk” party;
  5. Bekchanov Mukhammad, journalist, Mukhammad Sapykh’s brother and leader of the “Erk” party..

Of the criminal bosses, three were killed in prisons and camps.

I’ve written about all of those who I myself saw in the camps and who I’ve mentioned. But I’ll describe this period further down in more detail.

Part II  Turtkul. 1990 - 1996

  From 1990-1992 I was in Tashkent, Andijon, Namangan, Samarkand and Bukhara. Everywhere II met well-known Imams and tried to study Islam deeply. I consider many to have been my teachers, but my main teacher was Abduvali Mirzaev. I am aware of the level of Imams’ knowledge. And I don’t just know the level of what they knew about religion, but also of their political, historical, literary and other knowledge which helps to determine who’s who. The most important thing it helps to understand who is truly following an Islamic way of life, and who is simply a hypocrite, using Islam for his own ends, to gain worldly goods or to get to the top, in religious positions, of course.  Based on all of that I can say that Abduvali Mirzaev (may Allah help him!) was a true Muslim and real Islamic scholar. I am grateful to him for all that I have in the way of Islamic understanding. 

  Then in 1992, having arrived in the city of Turtkul, together with students, peers, friends, as well as relatives, we built the Mosque “Alamli-bobo”, although there was already an old mosque in the city. Its Imam was Dzumaboi Hadzha who’d come from Turkmenistan in 1985. He had graduated from the Bukhara Medresa, and enjoyed respect and authority in the city.

  I’ll give my point of view about this person. Firstly, he is not an Islamic scholar and doesn’t’ understand the essence of this religion at all. In character he is a person who’s cowardly, living in permanent fear of those around him. His aim is to use Islam for his own worldly benefit, that is, to build a house, to buy a car and so on. There is thought that he works in cooperation with the Uzbekistan security service and that’s why he’s been able to hold on to his post for more than 20 years. He’s sly, crafty, cautious, cowardly and without pity. Yet these are not qualities considered worthy of a true Muslim.

  I was 23 then, young and energetic, without popular support from the city residents and without material possibilities. I was hot-headed but foolish. For that reason I publicly criticized him for his mistakes. He hated me of course and prohibited me from coming to the Mosque with my students to study Islam. And all of that prompted me to build a new mosque. We built it over two years. All that time I taught the local children Islamic teachings and gave out free books. Unlike other mosques, we didn’t have a donation box and we didn’t take money for reading the Qu’ran. We called on the people of the city to bow before the one Allah, and explained some mistaken ideas regarding reverence to saints, cemeteries and so forth. And that made the Imam decide to accuse me of Wahhabism and to convince the authorities and law enforcement agencies of this. That was when the district police station, the security service and the city prosecutor’s office began active and comprehensive actions against me. Because of that I was later threatened on many occasions and the mosque was closed because it wasn’t registered. I had registered the mosque in Tashkent in the religious department of Muslims. The copies of these documents are in my case file.

  In winter - January 1996, it was the Month of Ramadan and we fasted. Our mosque was closed down and I went then to Urgench to visit my aunt. I had a lot of brother Muslim acquaintances there. Many were later imprisoned under Article 159[5]. I don’t remember what the Turtkul district police detained me for then. They took me to the station without saying a word. That was members of the criminal investigation department Rustam Makcud and Azim Allobergen. There they beat me. They tortured me and put a gas mask on me to get me to make a confession saying that I had supposedly set fire to the gates of the Dzhumaboi House.  In the cell there were more than ten people – all my students.

  I got Article 97 through 25[6], - that is an attempt at brutal murder. They planted hashish, but Allah himself saved me from that. Before that, on 28 August 1995, the Imam of the Andijon “Dzome” Mosque Abduvali Mirzaev disappeared from the airport. I went to Andijon and met with the Deputy Imam Abdugaffar and Abduvali’s brother Abdulgani. I was told that they were going to write a letter from the Mosque to President Karimov to ask him to help them find the Imam. And in October I sent a similar letter, with 32 signatures of people attending our mosque. From that time on all those 32 people were strictly monitored by the Security Service [SNB], the prosecutor and the Turtkul Police. Of them five were sentenced under Article 159 after the terrorist attacks in Tashkent in February 1999. It was the letter that had the most important role in the fate of my students, and mine. It was after it that a secret decree was issued from the centre to the city SNB to deal with the people who signed it. I was the oldest of them and the student of that same Abduvali Mirzaev whose disappearance was organized personally by decree of the President.

  The investigation was run by the Turtkul Deputy Prosecutor who was also called Zhumaboi. I don’t know his surname. During the investigation they told me what and how to write, and I wrote under torture. I still don’t know what actually burned down, but I know for certain that I didn’t set fire to the home of that Imam and that the cops themselves know better than me. And Allah knows best of all.

  In the No. 9 SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] in the city of Nukus I was tortured several times by Kazakhs or Karakalpak people who were brutal and merciless. I am an Uzbek and all city people are Uzbek who came from the other bank of the Amudarya River to that side. There you have the Khorezm region [oblast] and the river is the border between Khorezm and Karakalpakstan. I was in cell no. 32 in that prison. The cell had sleeping places for 10 people, but there were 30 or more people in it.  The prison was regime-based, i.e. “red”[7].  You couldn’t sit in the hut[8] during the day on the bed and sleep.  Yet at night two people slept on one bed and half of the people slept on the floor between the beds. The mattresses were terrible and there were no sheets at all. Worst of all were the bedbugs and ticks, big, red and terrible, which bit you and made it impossible to sleep. There was also the heat. In summer there its 30 - 400 outside, so it was probably 50-600 in the cell. And everybody also smokes. And the most awful thing was that there was no water. We couldn’t go to the toilet. It was hard then, very hard. And there was a search every week and during it they hit you with batons in the corridor, again for nothing. Then they also summons you to the operational unit where they were permanently drunk and trained on you. The worst one was the head of the regime unit, Babazhanov, I don’t know his first name. He was a monster; I think he had a stone where there should have been a heart.  I heard that later, in 2000, he became the head of a new penal colony “Dzhaslyk”[9], like in Guantanamo, known to the whole world and shows everybody what a bestial human being is capable of. I didn’t know at all until then the words “red”, “black” – they mean regime-based and non-regime prisons. SIZO-9 is the most vicious of all the red prisons where when a new contingent arrives, they break you and beat you horrifically, and when a contingent is being sent on as well. There are no human rights there, or prisoners’ rights. There are also no disinfectants or medical care and so forth. I am certain that in any place in the world animals are held in better conditions than in SIZO-9,

  On 12 July 1996 after a month-long trial, the Karakaplak Supreme Court sentenced me to 7 years imprisonment under Article 173 (destruction of property) and presented me with a claim for 14,000 sumy. The judge whose name was Anazhon removed Article 97 and others.

  After the trial, on 26 August of the same year there was an amnesty in connection with Uzbekistan’s Independence Day. It was written that those whose sentences were for longer than 5 years should have them reduced by a third. I was still in SIZO-9. In September they sent me by train to the Tashkent prison SIZO-1.  That was a big, in arrested people’s language, “black” prison. You more or less felt that it was possible to live there. About ten days later they sent me to penal colony No. 3.  We drove by car in the Tashkent oblast for two hours, and came to the settlement of Tavaksai. It’s a mountain area, a resort. The penal colony was also “black”, that is, they didn’t have a regime. There were criminal bosses there and they established their own laws and rules. I was in that place under the end of 2000.

  It was this very period of my life that from a religious point of view I consider to have been the best years in the moral sense of the word. I was religious, wanted to spread Islam, to call people to the truth, but I didn’t have the possibility to do so. I didn’t aspire in my life to wealth, didn’t try to build a house, buy a car or have a family, or anything else on a worldly level. I tried to serve Islamic ideals, to totally concentrate on self-enlightenment and I didn’t have such an opportunity.

  It was the Almighty Allah who gave me precisely that when I ended up behind bars. And I await reward and favour from the Almighty in the next world for all of that, Insha-Allah!

Part III 1996-2000 Penal Colony No. 1 Tavaksai.

  In the Tavaksai general regime penal colony there were about 5,000 people. However there was no work in the colony, like in the outside world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of people were unemployed, and still more in penal colonies. But all the same, as usual people were driven out at 8 o’clock from the living quarters to the work area.  The area there was large and thousands of people found their own different ways of finding a place for themselves, according to their own “families”[10] – with 4-5 people in each. There you had lunch and dinner. You were there from morning to evening. There were some two-storey buildings in the work area; they’d been workshops at some stage. They redid one small workshop, making it into a mosque, and there around 50-100 people prayed, and each in their own way studied Islamic books. According to the articles they were sentenced under they were different kinds of criminals: thieves, drug addicts, robbers, baklany[11], etc.

  However among them there were about 20 men who according to the articles applied were also criminals, but who were in fact prisoners because of their political or religious beliefs. After the terrorist act in February 1999 they began imprisoning people under Articles 159, 244-248[12] etc. I was also in this category, and we knew each other and others knew us. That’s because each time they put us in the punishment cell for two or three periods, and we were under the surveillance of the SNB. These people were mainly from Tashkent or the Fergana Valley.

  All of them were believers, but they didn’t all know Islam well. I proved to be the most learned of them and it’s there that I began my work.  There was practically no control from the colony administration. The conditions were good for studying and teaching, only we lacked literature. Then, from memory and with the help of an Uzbek translation of the Qu’ran I wrote one book with which you could more or less study the main dogmatic teachings of Islam. The book was called “Foundations of faith” and it explained in detail the essence of Islam – “the One God”. We also learned the letters of the Arabic alphabet and learned to read the Qu’ran aloud correctly.

  In a short time 20-30 brothers in faith gathered around me. Former criminals became genuine believers. They understand the meaning of their life, their duty and responsibilities before people and to Allah. And their characters also changed. I rejoiced over all this, obviously. I felt like a real Muslim preacher following Allah’s path. That for me was the meaning of my life. And thanks to the Almighty Allah a group of young Muslims formed who were united by the spirit of Islamic brotherhood. All dreamed of rebuilding their lives after their release on the basis of Islam. The levels of knowledge varied and some among them were older so of come they became the leaders.

  There in the penal conditions they didn’t give you the chance to always be together so we divided up into three small groups. Each of these lived an autonomous life. Three leaders of these groups emerged: Zhurakul (we called him Abdullokh by name); Yunusov Arab (he was called Umar in honour of Umar ibn Hottaba, one of the famous companions of the Prophet) and Babakulov Nafar (he was renamed Abdurazzak). All these leaders had life experience and had studied religion well, and all were older than the others. Our members changed each month with some people being released and others joining us.

  Even the criminal bosses who’d forbidden us to join together also began to appear in our fraternal union. We all supported each other both morally and in material terms.

  It was precisely then that a lot of pressure was put on me by criminals, possibly ordered by the administration. There were several occasions when they beat me up for various reasons and told me not to spread my religion since according to their concepts this was wrong. Several leaders were released at that time, and Abdurazzak and Umar visited me twice in the colony. There weren’t meetings, but they brought parcels. And this also worried the administration although there wasn’t anything bad in that. I wasn’t teaching them to kill or blow something up. I simply taught them to do good for people!

  Time passed and in 1998 they closed down the colony mosque and prohibited us from praying together. On 16 February 1999 things became generally very hard. 5 people from my city Turtkul, including my brother Saidkamal,Abutov born in 1973, were sentenced under Article 159. Throughout the whole republic thousands and thousands of people were sentenced to different periods of imprisonment under that article. Every week dozens of young people sentenced under Article 159 began arriving at the penal colony. From speaking with them I discovered that this was an Islamic political party “Hizb-ut-Tahrir”. My views were not different from theirs and I feel the same way to this day.

  At the beginning of 1999 my brother Saidkamal, was brought to Tavvaksai. I was very worried for our parents with whom there was only my brother’s wife and two children, and there was nobody to work. I found out that they had planted drugs on my brother as well as Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaflets.

  It was unbearably hard in the colony. The endless punishment cell and torture became the norm.  They took away all our books, manuscripts, all they could find, and there was no end to it. 

  The year 2000 arrived. They put me away for a month in the punishment cell, and then added two more terms in it. I knew that they wanted to add another sentence under Article 121 “Persistent violation of the colony regime”. The head of the colony Mirmakhmudov called me to his office and said that the SNB was demanding it. I said that at least if my brother didn’t face anything like that and he promised to help my brother so that he wasn’t’ ”wound on”[13].

  Anyway I was put in the punishment cell for the investigation. And the Gazalzhensk District Court sentenced me to three and a half years harsh regime penal colony. I spent about one year in the same colony as my brother. It was hard then, hard at the investigation and during the trial. I suffered a lot, lost my appetite and stopped eating. I was in a terrible state. During those years a penal colony opened for political prisoners in Karakalpakstan, in Priaralye.  We heard rumours about the terrible torture there every day. And the worst that I heard was that you were prohibited from praying. That was by far the most terrible thing for me. I was willing to die, but to live without making my prayers five times a day was for me unendurable!

  I was told that they would be sending me there, to “Dzhaslyk” – that was how they called that penal zone where people were in cells behind two-layered iron doors and bars and were virtually starved. You couldn’t sit on the bunk from 6 to 10 in the morning, you had to stand in various positions. You couldn’t pray. They took you there by helicopter. When the prisoner passed through a live corridor, he was beaten with batons from all sides. By the time you get to the end, you’ve been crippled. Of the first contingent to be taken there, 35 people died. The head of the zone was the head of the regime unit of SIZO-9 Babadzhaov.

  We only heard about the horror of what was going on in that Dzhaslyk from people who’d been there. I met them later everywhere and learned a lot about it. They threatened to send me there. I preferred death than to live without prayer. Those were hard tests from the Almighty for his slaves.

  My friends who’d been released were put under the control of the local police station. They were also in a difficult position at liberty, being constantly watched. They somehow got to Tavaksai and found out that I wasn’t there, that I’d been moved to another penal zone with a new sentence. In December I was taken with other prisoners by train to penal colony No. 46.

    Part IV 2000-2004  Tsemzavod

  I arrived at the harsh regime penal colony No. 46 in the Navoisk region. It’s a desolate place next to a cement factory.

  The colony was, according to prison slang “red” or “rat rule”[14].  Order was maintained not by criminal bosses, but by the so called activists – the “department for maintaining order”. They had a band on their arm and carried out almost 90% of everything connected with the regime as far as the prisoners were concerned.  Their head, Gera, was a former criminal boss. For his fate he also agreed to become an activist and now the penal administration used him to break down other authorities from the criminal work who were brought to No. 46. I think the elimination of criminal bosses was also approved by the President. During those years that I was there, they broke, down, that is, they turned dozens of colonies which were “black” in the Soviet days into “red”.  From all those colonies they brought the criminal bosses specifically to No. 46 and broke them down.

  Here there was a whole procedure for this process of breaking them down. And each new prisoner had to go through it before entering the colony.  That’s like in the Russian concepts “Bely Lyebed” [“White Swan” where criminal bosses are broken down by the Boss[15] of that zone, lieutenant colonel Aziz Bazarovich Mardonov, also notorious in the criminal world for his brutal methods. He was respected because everybody was frightened of him. He wouldn’t let any authority come out alive if the latter didn’t do what he demanded. The procedure includes::

Stretch out the “baran”[16]

Collect a bucket of stones from the prohibited zone

Write a letter addressed to the Head of the administration stating that you want to be an “activist”

Learn the Uzbekistan national anthem off by heart and pass an exam in the Uzbek language

Take a bucket full of shit from the sewerage system and drag it 150 metres where everybody can see you.

Wash the floors of the quarantine barracks and so on..

  All of that procedure takes place on the very first day. It’s all considering unfitting for those who hold to thieves’ ideas. After that they can’t become “otrytsalovo”[17] or criminal elite. That marks the end of a criminal career. With those who rejected this, a brigade of “activists”, headed by Gena, got “to work” immediately, with a board and rope as reinforcements. The management gives the go-ahead for 2-3 deaths, so that the others will be afraid. And in that way, one after the other, they broke down all the criminal bosses. There isn’t a single “black” penal zone in the entire republic. And overall there are twenty two such zones.

  In this penal zone the relevant instructions were given on what to do with us, that is, those convicted under Article 159.  We were called “vovchiki” [a term used in the same context as Wahhabites – translator].  The army of butchers carried out their business well.

  Because there was a cement factory nearby, the prisoners also called the colony “Tsemzavod”  [from the words for cement and factory – translator].  The regime in this colony was harsh, or you could even say very harsh.  There was a crusher in the work zone. Three crushers worked around the clock and prisoners also broke up stone by hand with hammers. And there was also a workshop of posts. From there, like a conveyer belt, we dragged the crushed stone in barrows from the crusher, from there cement to the workshop in moulds, from there we pushed the moulds to the cleaning area, from there to the storage platform, and from that storage platform it was later loaded into wagons. 5-10 wagon loads a day were sent off somewhere. And all of this we produced with our bare hands. And we worked like that around the clock. It was really hard work.

  I was in the quarantine barrack for 12 days. I made my prayers – either after lights out, lying down, or during a check when you can stand a whole hour. The five prayers I only recited mentally, shaking my head. The most difficult part was washing. We weren’t given the chance to wash and the toilet was twice a day, 20 minutes you were allowed. There were 100 people and only 10 places in the toilet. You don’t have time there, let alone to wash. 

  At that time I was with Mukhammad Bekchanov, brother of Mukhammad Salykh, the leader of the “Erk” party, as well as Khafizullo (I don’t remember his surname) – leader of the “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” party, and some other people sentenced under Article 159.  They forced us during the smoke breaks, and after lights out, to do cleaning, to clear the snow, wipe the road tiles on the street with wet rags, and they still often bellowed “quicker, quicker!”.  All the prisoners for whole days marched over those tiles with granny steps or running and so on. After lights out, the criminals rest and we have to do the cleaning and wash the toilets. There were various other forms of humiliation.

.  Straight after arriving, those under Article 159 faced torture. They forced you to write an appeal addressed to the President. We were called “enemies of the people”. All of this was carried out by the “gady” not the police. They called us singly to the head office and 4-5 officers “to get to know each other” broke down all who came into that office. After an hour, the prisoner either leaves himself or they call people to collect him.

  There was the Deputy Head called Sanakul – a fat guy about 1.5 metres tall. He was thick, coarse and generally brutal.  He humiliated me many times, insulted and tortured me. He was also a non-believer and several times in his office in front of me he insulted Allah, the Prophet and the Islamic religion, not to mention me personally. I was constantly surprised how patient Allah is: his slaves insult and denigrate his words, i.e. the Qu’ran and he doesn’t immediately punish them. He is merciful and all-forgiving. Sanakul twice showed me the picture of Karimov on the wall above his table and said: “Here now, that’s God, the rest is lies”. In 2005 he was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment and I don’t think he’s been released yet.

  The Head of the Institution himself – A.B. Mardonov – once spoke with us. He was a tall man, probably two metres tall and 150 kilograms, and wore glasses. He was a very supercilious officer. Gera – the head of the activists was nearby all the time. But the Head was far more intelligent than his deputy. He said straight off that he believes in God but that we have gone astray and that we’re “enemies of the people”. He said that all that the President was doing was purely for the good of the people! That we should respect him, that God himself had chosen him as President for our people. Anyone who says anything against that is an enemy of the people and not a Muslim. A Muslim should respect his President whoever he is. It was all in that vein. He probably actually believed it!

  I was in that place for 3.5 years, from December 2000 to 9 May 2004.  During the first two years 2001 – 2002, I experienced  torture, humiliation and insults which will do me for a lifetime. I will never forget them and it will probably be those years which will be valued very highly on the Day of Judgment before Allah.  I hope so. 

  Each unit had a person in charge and 4-5 activists (gady).  And in each of those units there were 40-50 people who were there under Article 159.  It was us that the activists concentrated on from morning to evening. The criminals also hated us, since we didn’t live by their rules and concepts. We were woken up  before the normal time, forced to clear the snow, clean the toilets and they watched to make sure that we didn’t pray. The activists made a note of all those who said their prayers, and then in the morning when the unit officer arrived they gave him the list. Four unit officers from one sector would come together in the office where they called us in one by one and “gave us a lesson”. They abused us and in turn beat us so that we would say that we wouldn’t say our prayers anymore. And they instructed the activists to punish us for 10 days in a row. And that was repeated every day. Each unit was supposed to clean the toilets and wash basins for a month, but from each unit the ones who had to do the work were the offenders, i.e. we Muslims who were imprisoned under Article 159.

  In each unit, there were 250 people, in the sector – around 1,000. The toilets had ten places. There were three-storey bunks in the unit, with narrow passageways. But there still weren’t enough places for 30-40 people. That meant us. We were put on the third level, between two men.  We didn’t have a mattress, or blankets, and didn’t have a bowl and spoon.  You could “buy” a spoon for one ration of bread, and a “bowl” for another three rations of bread. Until that you couldn’t eat. We couldn’t get undressed and sleep like people do – it wasn’t possible. They gave us really old and smelly jackets, trying to degrade us however they could before the criminals. And when we found other ones, they didn’t let us wear them so that we didn’t look normal. We were enemies of the people after all. It’s good that they didn’t just kill us, but let us live on, even if it wasn’t very pleasant!

  The unit personnel beat us several times for reading prayers. And if somebody continued to do so, we were taken after lights out to the operational control officers and they worked on us. After a hard day’s work an activist would turn up and say, come on, they’re summoning you to the head office. That was terrible. You go there and there are already several prisoners outside the door. They’re Muslim brothers, we’ll wait until somebody comes out then the next person in line goes in. You can hear how they’re beating him, and how the person screams, and how they abuse him. We stand there awaiting our turn. You feel sleepy but we can’t sleep. The activists on the night shift stand near by and talk among themselves. They’ll go off in the morning to sleep and we’ll receive our “punishment”, and leave at 3 or 4 a.m. and at 6 o’clock they get you up. The work is also hard, and the food – water without potatoes, without meat, just cabbage. The Bugry[18], holding sticks yell “Come on, come on!”.  We’re not allowed to smoke, not allowed chifir [an extremely potent tea concentrate – translator].  The criminals are allowed. In the work zone there’s a general senior brigade leader called Shakir. He’s also a prisoner, but he’s like an army general.  All the other brigade leaders are scared of him. Even though he weighs more than 120 kilograms, at the sight of the head of the work zone, Major Zhanpulata, he jumps like a cat. When the Major comes into the work zone, he meets him at the gates and walks around with him everywhere, wherever he goes. Everybody has a huge sense of fear, and this is not in 1937 under Stalin, but in 2001. Stalin would have probably been jealous if he’d found out that there are people in this world even better than him at frightening people. May God grant that all those people face eternal torment in Hell! Amen!

  The dammed wagon arrives, we’ll be left to do the second shift, and if we don’t load it up, the third shift. There were times when we worked around the clock. Four men lift up a post and drag it to the wagon. You can’t sit down. Everywhere they’re shouting, telling you to work quickly. If somebody’s hat or leg hurts, of if somebody falls, that’s just nothing.  But if you smash a post, that’s a disaster. They called us dushmany [a Soviet word for Mojaheddin – translator], but so what?  We share the same language, we are one nation, have one faith, and even one homeland, only there’s Article 159, that’s all. The activists get substantial food, but we have soup – just water.  Hunger was a permanent problem.  We didn’t have cigarettes.  We were allowed a parcel of 8 kilograms every three months. The others could get as much as they liked.

  They had visits for three days while we got them for only 24 hours. Before the visit, the operational control officers warn you not to say too much, that everything is listened to, and it will be worse for you later. They dress you in more normal clothes, and then the visit. In the visiting room, at the sight of your family, you can only cry – whether from joy, or from the humiliation, or because of the possibilities which until then you didn’t have, and – quieter only!  But you were only allowed a visit twice a year.  Those who were married and whose wives came to visit had it even harder. How could you sleep with your wife?  That was impossible, both physically and morally. What difficulties Muslim women experienced, I can’t begin to imagine! If some patiently came through these trials, may they receive Allah’s mercy and reward both in this world and the next.  However there were cases where several families broke up.

  I arrived in No. 46 not long before 2000 ended and the new year began. At first I was in the 9th unit of the third sector. It was there that I saw in the first year of the new millennium. In January I was really surprised to be called for a visit. I started trying to guess who could be coming.  My mother and father were elderly, pensioners, they couldn’t themselves come. My younger brother was in penal colony No. 1 at the time. The two elder brothers had reached the point where they couldn’t even feed their own children. There was no work, no money, and so forth. In Tavaksai, all the time I was there, only had one long-term visit from my parents. My elder brother managed somehow to bring them in his car. I didn’t have a wife. Aside from my parents there was nobody who could come for a long visit.

  Yet it was my father and mother who arrived, with two sacks of food items. And they told me that two of my friends from Tavaksai, Abdullokh and Abdurazzak, had come to my city of Turtkul, and collected my parents and the food and come for a visit. They themselves had gone off to spend the night in a hotel, they wrote a letter for me there and asked my mother to pass it to me. However when they were searched, the letter was taken away. I didn’t pay attention to the letter – if they took it away, OK, let them.  The main thing was that for the first time in several years I was seeing my parents, what happiness!  And it was also nice that my old friends had remembered me, may Allah himself reward them!

  The night passed, we didn’t sleep at all, just talked. I didn’t tell them about what was going on in the penal colony. I didn’t want to upset them, they were old and unwell as it was. However in the morning the Deputy Head of the colony arrived, Senior Lieutenant Sanakul, called me into another room, pulled the letter out of his pocket and started asking questions. Judging by the questions, the letter had the names of several people released from Tavaksai. He asked where they were now working, who had got married, who had gone where, and so on. He began threatening me, screaming that they were all bandits, “terrorists” and saying that I must tell him everything, etc. After 20 minutes he let me go. I went back to my parents and tried not to show how sad I was. They were very happy over my friends’ kindness and praised them non-stop.

  In a couple of hours I was called away from the meeting and I said goodbye to my parents. Then they locked me up still holding my bags in an empty room and I sat there for 4-5 hours, I don’t know why. After that two officers took me from there to the punishment area and locked me up in the unnumbered cell – the cell for waiting in. A few hours later I found out that at the time that my friends arrived in the morning to collect my parents a group was waiting to seize them. They were arrested and taken off somewhere. And my parents with their bags, and food items that hadn’t been allowed because of the extra kilograms found their own way to the railway station and somehow travelled the 700 kilometres home by coach.

  They took me to see the Head of the colony A.B. Mardonov. The Colonel verbally insulted me, said that I was leading so many people astray and that they would also suffer, and that the sin for their suffering would be on my conscience. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. They put me in the punishment cell for 10 days. There immediately 10-15 officers began beating me – I’d never before experienced anything like it and probably never will again.  Twp of them took me to the cell and flung me inside where I lost consciousness. That was how my first and last visit during that term of imprisonment ended. 

  I lay in the solitary confinement cell. It was a narrow cell, with concrete everywhere, including the floor, and in the corner there was a bucket. That was all. The cell was cold, this was January or February 2001. I was terribly anxious about the fate of my friends, what would happen to them? I worried about them, about myself, about my brother who’d remained in Tavaksai. And I thought all the time why had they written that cursed letter at all.  Later I found out that at that time as well as my two friends, they arrested seven other people – some of their neighbours or friends, I don’t even know who. In all 9 people were sentenced under Article 159 to various periods of imprisonment. But for some reason they didn’t bring any charges against me on that case.  On the other hand they put me in the punishment cell twice for 10 days and trained on me. Then they moved me from a non-working unit to the working sector, to the 3rd unit of the 30th brigade where I began working on the crusher.

  I arrived at the work zone and in the 3rd unit on the same day as Mukhammad Bekchanov, the brother of the leader of the opposition party “Erk”. He was brought there from Kyiv, as he himself explained – he and many others were given 15 year sentences under Article 159.   I saw that trial on television, they tried 15 people, of whom only 5-6 were in the courtroom with the others tried in their absences. They produced their photos and handed down sentences. Among them were Takhir Yuldashev, the leader of the so called “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan”, and Madaminov Salai (Mukhammad Salykh) – the leader of the opposition party “Erk, and others.

  At the entrance to each unit there was a wall newspaper and there was the photograph of Mukhammad Salykh. Underneath were the words “Vatan khoiny”, that is, “Traitor of the Homeland”. And we were forced to spit on his photo as a sign of contempt when coming into the unit. You understand that Mukhammad Bekchanov was the brother of this leader, even if they had different surnames?

  We, and I personally, were forbidden from going to the toilet after lights out and until everybody got up. During the day I was also not allowed to go there alone, if I needed to, then I had to go with one of the activists. This I think was the only such case in world history. Maybe they had already set all those in the unit against me, including the unit officer, because from the very first day they treated me with contempt.  The unit officer, a young lieutenant who was still inexperienced began training on me, gaining experience in abusing and beating. I went off to work in the morning, arrived in the evening, and during the day I didn’t see him. After lights out he called me “for a chat” and until morning, with other unit officers they “educated” me. That was undoubtedly on the verbal order of A.B. Mardonov. He know who to break, and how.

  Every day after work Bechkanov and I dragged water, and watered the flowers around the unit and cleaned the toilet. We worked together on the crusher and there I witnessed yet another example of barbarism against Muslims in the history of mankind. In the work zone there was a toilet with a pit underneath that you could climb to the bottom of by steps. Usually prisoners bring the shit out of their in buckets when it rises up. I saw how from the work zone headquarters they brought four prisoners, leaders of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. And in broad daylight, right in the work zone, several activists headed by the brigade leader of the work zone Shakir lowered them into the pit, right on the shit. It was a terrible sight. The crusher was about 100 metres from the toilet – I saw how they lowered them into the pit, and how they lifted them up, all stinking and in shit, wet from head to toe. They were taken to the washing area, washed, dressed and put in the punishment cells.

  Later, when I asked Khafizuli about this he said that the head of the work zone had demanded that he write Karimov a letter and he’d refused. For that those four got beatings and were then put into the toilet pit. But when you’d only just arrived at the colony, everybody wrote in quarantine after all, didn’t they? , I asked. He answered that yes, he’d written, but that now they wanted him to do it again, and this time he’d refused.

.   Bekchanov and I dragged the crushed stone in barrows from the crusher to the concrete mixer, 200 metres. Bekchanov was around 50, a simple man. He spoke his Khoresm dialect of the Uzbek language, and not in the Tashkent form which is regarded as a sign of being cultured. He did not, as I noted, make his prayers and was not a religious man. And he was afraid of the brigade leaders. Just on seeing them, he would try to work faster. He was stronger than I was, but when those brigade leaders abused or beat him, he was silent. I on the contrary tried to also abuse them or yell.

  I talked with him a lot about everything. I wanted to find out more about his brother and his idea, and so forth. I never saw the leader of the “Erk” party himself, only on television in 1992. And I heard his programmes on Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty] many times.  Judging by his speeches and the speeches of President Karimov, if you compare them, I think that he was much better and more intelligent than that dictator. As for Salykh’s brother, Mukhammad Bekchanov, he wasn’t, as far as I could observe, competent either in politics or in religion. However that is only my opinion, it’s quite possible that I am underestimating him.

  Once I refused to lift a post and drag it to the storage depot. The brigade lead took me to the senior brigade leader Shakir so that the latter would teach me to work. Before that I’d found an old blade on the ground, I had it in my pocket. I quietly took it out, and when Shakir came out and wanted to hit me, I yelled: “Here, if you want to drink my blood, do so!” and began slashing the veins on my left arm. 4-5 men immediately jumped on me, wrenched my arms back, hit and kicked me and took me to the headquarters. There they drew up a document saying that I had refused to work, and they shut me inside the punishment cell for 15 days.

  In the punishment cell it was a little quieter and more peaceful, but you suffered there from hunger and the cold.  And you’re also not allowed to say your prayers there. The head of the operational control section in No. 46 was a thin, dark man called Shavkat. He called me a terrorist. He shut me inside that time too although I’d done nothing wrong. That was my third time in the punishment cell and it was my fourth month in the colony. The day officer of the punishment cell saw me saying my prayers and ratted on me to the regime officer Khasan. Khasan arrived with his batons and beat me so badly that such torture would be enough for a lifetime. And praised be Allah that all of that was because I had prayed to Allah!  The thought of that soothes my soul. But I couldn’t sit or lie down, I cried, read the Qu’ran which I know by heart, asked Allah to let me die. Then, if I die, as a martyr, it will be better for me on Judgment Day.

  However I didn’t die. I couldn’t imagine how to go on further. I looked for a way of getting into another penal colony, or to “Sangorod” where they don’t beat you like that. I had to somehow get out of this accursed penal zone. But how? Kill one of the cops or the activists? But then I’d get another term inside.  Should I throw myself onto the prohibited zone?  A soldier would shoot me dead and that would be it! But how could I get to it?  I couldn’t see any possibility. I saw how one prisoner climbed up onto the tower near the headquarters of the work zone and demanded that an officer come. When the operational control officers arrived, they persuaded him to come down, and as soon as he did, they grabbed him and took him to the punishment cell. And there they really beat him, added a further term inside under some other articles and sent him to another colony. They did this to some of our people, 10-15 people, changed the regime and sent them to another penal colony.

  I decided to either slash my stomach or to swallow spoons so that when I had a seizure, they’d take me to hospital for an operation. And there I’d demand that they called the prosecutor and I’d tell them everything. My plan was a bit stupid, but I couldn’t find another one, and I couldn’t endure it any longer! There are scales in the medical unit. When they weighed me, I turned out to weigh 54 kilograms. And in Tavaksai I was 91 kg.  I couldn’t believe that a person could lose 40 kg. in 4 months, but it turned out to be completely possible.

  And so I decided to swallow a spoon. I found a medium-size teaspoon and bent it so that it was possible to swallow. In the morning I swallowed the spoon with difficulty, ate a bit of snow as well, and then went to breakfast. But there I couldn’t hold out and I ate breakfast – I was permanently hungry.  After that I wrote a statement addressed to Mardonov about they I was being tormented here, worse than any animal. They don’t let me say my prayers, they constantly degrade and insult me and for what? What have I actually done?  Why is it all happening? I am a Muslim – is for my religious convictions then that I’m suffering? You consider yourself a Muslim – are you not frightened that Allah will punish you for all this?  And more in the same vein. I put the letter in the box near the head office during the check.

  Lunch passed and there was silence, dinner – still silence. I was expecting a sharp pain any time now in my stomach, a spasm and I’ll say that I’ve swallowed a spoon. I couldn’t pretend beforehand. 24 hours in all went by. In the morning the unit officer summoned me: four officers were sitting there, and they began beating me. Why had I tried to deceive the management that I’d swallowed a spoon when I hadn’t? I said they’d I’d swallowed it the morning before. They laughed and said: “If that was the case, you’d have already yesterday been sent for an operation. 24 hours have passed and there hasn’t been anything. You’re a liar!” They began beating me in the kidneys and the stomach. I was already ready worried that the spoon inside my stomach could burst everything and then I’d definitely die. But then they let me go. I cried, wanted to die, even waited for death, though that the spoon would rip up my stomach and something would happen. They didn’t believe me, but I know after all that I’d swallowed a spoon. Yet it didn’t happen and I didn’t even notice in the toilet that the spoon had come out. I still don’t understand where it got to!

  That was some kind of miracle for me. I don’t know what happened to the spoon but something else happened to me. They shut me away in a punishment cell for 15 days, and before they put me there, the head of the regime unit Salim, a moustached black major worked me over. He instructed the guards sternly to teach me how to behave. They in turn forced me to watch the floors even though they had their own duty people. The food rations in the punishment cell were reduced. Even in the colony in general there wasn’t enough food, but in the punishment cell it was even worse. While you’re there you get terribly hungry and you can’t sleep because of the cold.  My kidneys and my head started to give me problems.

  After all this the regime officer, a young lieutenant called Shakhobiddin was doing the rounds of the huts and began demanding that I took off my warm underwear which I had on. He wanted in this way to cause me even greater suffering. All of the behaviour of the administration was aimed at destroying me through a slow and terrible death! I refused to take it off, said that it was possible to wear it in winter since in the penal zone they don’t give you warm underwear. The lieutenant went off, wrote a complaint about me and various nonsense, and for that I ended up in the punishment cell for 7 days. I was again summoned to the head and for having insulted the regime officer, I got another month in a solitary confinement punishment cell.

   And a week later they brought Akhmadzhon Adipov who was well-known already in Soviet times from colony 48 to No. 46 and to the punishment cell, next to mine.  They wanted to lay on another term of imprisonment since his sentence was coming to an end.  He had been moving from colony to colony since 1984 and each time they added a new prison term. I don’t know how he so annoyed the President. But he was already 80, an old man, grey haired and wearing glasses. There was nothing so terrible about him.  They say that even Rashidov[19].himself was scared of him. Why that was the case I don’t know. However Karimov was also probably frightened.  The head of the regime unit Major Salim talked with him for an hour, and others. They didn’t beat him. And they gave him boiling water as often as he wanted, not twice like us.  And also a mattress, and they also let him have parcels from outside. Judging by conversations on religion and politics I knew that the old man was far removed from Islamic ideology, although he prayed five times. And as far as politics were concerned, he didn’t have a definite position either. I don’t know how and for what he came to prominence in his time.

  They also put Khafisullo, the leader of Hizb-ut-Takhrir in the solitary confinement punishment cell for three months.

  I spent another month there, after which they moved me to the usual punishment cell where I remained until the end of that term. There was one occasion when the regime officer with his baton trained on me and a day later they released me.

  I couldn’t clean myself, wash my things, everything was stinking and then suddenly they called me to the head office and said that I was being sent the next day to “Sangorod”! It was my dream to get there. I had already spent one month there in 1998, due to a cerebral problem. It was much better there. And it was very hard to get there from Colony No. 46 - other prisoners went there only at great expense. How was I going there free? I don’t know.

  There were 20 men in the convoy, 10 of them were from the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, and 10 from the so-called “Wahhabites”. All had been convicted under the same article. I went with the Imam of the Kozhan “Khavakand” Mosque. Mukhammad Radzhab. He had arrived at No. 46 recently from colony No. 33 and was put in the second sector. For some reason he was also sent to “Sangorod”. We were taken by train to Tashkent, and then by car to “Sangorod”. There, in the tuberculosis area, we were placed in different units.

  During the medical examination they refused to take me – they thought I’d die. I told them that I’d just come out of a punishment cell where I been beaten. However later operational officers came and persuaded me to write that I had fallen down the stairs and injured myself. I told them then that a month earlier I had swallowed a spoon. They immediately sent me to have an x-ray done, and there they said that my stomach was clean and that I had lied to them. That was a strange kind of happiness for me. I thanked Allah that the spoon had not after all done me any harm. That had been my weakness – I had to endure all the trials, I shouldn’t have swallowed the spoon. Yet I did in fact swallow it, and wasn’t lying to anyone. And where the spoon got to, I have no idea! Maybe it passed out of my body?  That only Allah alone knows?

  The aim of bringing us there was for us to catch infectious diseases and to speed up our death. We were held among seriously ill prisoners, with people dying virtually every day. And after a month I was sent back to Colony No. 46.  Those who had been with me then, were later, I heard, sent to “Dzhazlyk”. And I didn’t in fact become infected with tuberculosis. Allah himself protected me and I am grateful for this.

  I arrive back in No. 46 and went to work in the workshop for poles and it was all like it had been. Because of a fight with the brigade leader I ended up in the punishment cell two more times. Overall, while in No. 46, I was in the punishment cell 12 times and once in the solitary confinement cell. In Tavaksai a bit more – 14 times in the punishment cell and once in the solitary confinement cell. With such a state of affairs they told me that they’d again pin charges under Article 121. That was really hard for me.

  An amnesty was declared. I thought that my brother would be released, but no way. And virtually nobody was released from No. 46. The forced us all to write, said that those who write appeals to the President would be released. But seemingly everybody wrote them and they didn’t release anybody. There were two hunger strikes in the colony over that by people sentenced under Article 159. 10-15 people had new sentences pinned on them as a result – they supposedly demanded to be allowed to pray and to fast during Ramadan. Later commissions began arriving from the President’s office (including an Imam from the Religious Department), from the SNB, and from the Uzbekistan Supreme Court. They came to each penal institution a few times and to No. 46 also. When they arrived, all those convicted under Article 159, around 300-400 men, were summoned to the winter club. The commission members sat at tables with three to four at each, and we were called one at a time. They had a list of 20-30 questions, and they asked them in turn. We answered and they marked “+” or “-“.  They went away, then came back again 3-4 months later, and so on. In this way some were released under the amnesty, and some weren’t. I had been sentenced not under Article 159, but under Article 121, and even earlier under 173, and was considered a pure criminal. Yet in essence I was the same as them, that is “a one hundred and fifty nine” prisoner.

  Then they began a game of democracy. Once they gathered all the prisoners in the summer club, set up a microphone and the head himself called on all those who had complaints to come up to the microphone – nobody will punish them, and he guarantees that. I got up from my place, went up to the microphone and said that I had already been imprisoned for seven years and had seen more than one penal institution, but that you probably couldn’t find one like No. 46 anywhere in the world. I said all that I could. I even spoke of how at the construction site the brigade leaders had beaten me, and that I still had a bruise under my eye from it. ,It was a kind of heroism – nobody had spoken before me and they didn’t after me either. Everybody waited to see what would happen to me. To my great surprise they didn’t put me in the punishment cell. They didn’t touch me at all. On the contrary, they released me from the work zone, moved me to No. 13 non-working unit in the 3rd sector and sent me to the medical unit for treatment.  There although I didn’t get treatment, I had a rest for 10 days. That was wonderful for me and I thanked Allah and marvelled at what was going on – I couldn’t understand it!

  But later I understood that they were beginning to unload all the prisons. They took away the third layer of bunks and everyday 100-150 people were hastily sent off somewhere. They gave out new sheets, underwear and prisoners’ clothing. I was also summoned and sent to Penal Colony No. 1 in the Zangiotinsk district of the Tashkent region.

  We got there in an awful state, stinking with sweat. There we – myself and three prisoners under Article 159 – were shut up in a punishment cell for 15 days, while the others were placed in the actual colony. We lay there for another 15 days and then we were sent by convoy to the Tashkent Prison SIZO No. 1, and from there a week later – back to No. 46.

  And then we were told that a commission from the International Red Cross Committee and Red Crescent had come to the colony. They had walked around the entire colony, but nobody had wanted to talk to them and three days later they left, saying they would come back again. And a year and a half later they came back, but that time they didn’t send us away. I also saw them, but we were told not to complain about anything to them, since they’ll leave and we’re here, so I didn’t dare to say anything. And I also didn’t believe that there’d be any use. However, one friend who doesn’t know Russian asked me to translate his words, and so I became his interpreter.  I translated his words into Russian, and their interpreter translated them into German or English (I don’t know). After that, they summoned us to the head office and we had to spend another times in the punishment cell.

  The situation became somehow more endurable. They started beating us less often. All that indicated that some kind of changes were beginning. The changes for the better were in 2002 and then they released 20-30 people. In 2003 on 8 December there was an amnesty under which my brother was released from Tavaksai – he was freed in January 2004. At that time there were 5 months remaining till my release.

  I didn’t fall under the amnesty and was released in 2004, on 8 May, with the last bell, so to speak. The Navoisk Court sentenced me to 6 months surveillance at liberty, and rubbing my eyes in disbelief but with immense gratitude to my Creator I set off for home by coach!

[1]  Turtkul is a district centre in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, which is a part of Uzbekistan, and located in the North West of the country. Most of the territory of Karakalpakstan is covered by the Ustyurt Plateau, the Kysylkum Desert and the Aral Sea.  (Here and further on the footnotes have been added by Yelena Ryabinina)

[2] In the 1990s Abduvali Mirzaev was one of the most well-known and respected Uzbek Muslim religious figures. He was the Imam of the “Zhome” Mosque in Andijon.  He disappeared on 28 August 1995 at the Tashkent Airport from where he was planning to fly to Moscow to take part in an international Islamic conference.  His students and followers whom the authorities often accuse of “Wahhabism” have over many years been subjected to politically motivated repression in Uzbekistan.

[3] Obidkhon Nazarov is the former Imam of the Tashkent “Tukhtaboi” Mosque holds enormous authority with many Uzbek Muslims. Due to persecution by the authorities who accused both him and his supporters of “Wahhabism”, he was forced to go into hiding from 1998. In March 2006, with the help of the UNHCR Office in Kazakhstan he was taken to Sweden and there given asylum.

[4] “Sangorod” is the republican prison hospital in Taskhkent and also Penal Colony №18 (KIN-18)

[5] Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan – attempt against the constitutional system in the Republic of Uzbekistan

[6] Article 97 of the same Criminal Code premeditated murder; Article 25 – preparation of a crime, attempt to commit a crime

[7] «Red» refers to a prison or penal colony in which the procedure is established by the security forces and their “voluntary” helpers from among the prisoners, unlike “black” ones where criminals and criminal bosses , etc rule. .

[8] Hut = cell

[9] “Dzhaslyk” or “Zhaslyk” is a special penal colony for especially dangerous “enemies of the regime” in the settlement of Dzhaslyk in Karakalpakstan. It was established in 1999. It gained notoriety in Uzbekistan because of the particularly cruel and sophisticated forms of torture which prisoners are subjected to. .

[10] “Families” in penal colonies are groups of prisoners who unite to help each other, share parcels, etc.

[11]  In prison slang “baklany” are prisoners sentenced for fighting 

[12]  Articles 244-248 are from Chapter XVII of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code. They are entitled “Crimea against public safety”..

[13] “wind on” [“raskrutit”] is to force a prisoner to confess to some other crimes besides those which they were convicted of in order to add a further period of imprisonment. They often do this to those whose sentences are coming to an end, when for some reason or others the authorities don’t want to release them

[14]  From the word “gady” [literally reptiles, but used for scum of the human variety – translator] , referring to those prisoners who agreed to cooperate with the penal administration, so called “activists”

[15] The Boss here is the head of the penal colony

[16]  Baran is a prohibited zone

[17] «Otrytsalovo» – these are criminals who refuse to work, that is, by prison understanding,  it’s against their rules.

[18] “Bugry” are bosses

[19] Sharaf Rashidov  (19171983) – during Soviet times the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan.

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