Washington, D.C. – In response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued an opinion finding the former detention of human rights defender Azamjon Farmonov by the Government of Uzbekistan to be in violation of international law. The Committee — a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — called for Uzbekistan to provide compensation to Farmonov.
“The release of Azamjon Farmonov from prison late last year was an encouraging sign from the Uzbekistan government,” said Freedom Now Legal Director Kate Barth. “As Uzbekistan continues to pursue reform, its commitment to justice for former political prisoners must be a priority. The government should abide by the Human Rights Committee’s opinion and ensure that Azamjon is fully rehabilitated and provided compensation.”
Prior to his arrest, Farmonov served as Chairman of the Syrdarya region branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan where he focused his advocacy on defending farmer’s rights, monitoring trials, and producing informational pamphlets on human rights issues that he shared with other Uzbek human rights organizations and foreign embassies.
On the morning of April 29, 2006, police arrested Farmonov and charged him with extortion. That day authorities searched Farmonov’s apartment on three separate occasions, seizing, among other items, human rights pamphlets. During these raids, investigators struck Farmonov’s pregnant wife, knocking her unconscious.
Following his arrest, Farmonov was held incommunicado for over a week. During this time, authorities tortured him in an attempt to force him to make a confession. Farmonov’s trial was plagued with inconsistencies and violations of fair trial standards. The government appointed a lawyer to represent Farmonov; however, his family declined the lawyer’s services after learning that the attorney was allegedly present while authorities tortured Farmonov. On June 15, 2006, the Yangiyer City Criminal Court sentenced Farmonov to nine years in prison. Following his conviction, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch declared Farmonov to be a prisoner of conscience.
As the end of Farmonov’s sentence approached he was accused of a series of minor prison infractions, such as retorting to other prisoners and failing to wear a distinguishing badge. For such alleged insults he was placed in solitary confinement on several occasions for up to twenty days. The prison authorities tortured Farmonov in order to obtain his confession to such alleged infractions by suffocating him with a rubber mask until he passed out and forcing him to listen to the screams of others being tortured as a threat of similar treatment.
On April 25, 2015, Farmonov was charged with “disobeying the legal demands of the administration of a correctional facility.” He was sentenced to an additional five years in prison after a one day trial in which he did not have access to an attorney and was not permitted to introduce exonerating evidence. In prison, his health continued to worsen; his body was covered in pustules the size of walnuts and he experienced kidney pain.
On October 3, 2017, Farmonov was released from prison.
In its opinion, the Committee found that the Government of Uzbekistan had committed numerous violations of international law in arresting and detaining Farmonov. It determined that Uzbekistan denied his rights to freedom from torture, freedom from arbitrary arrest, presumption of innocence, and due process. In addition to calling for Uzbekistan to provide compensation to Farmonov, the Committee also called for an investigation into allegations of torture, prosecution of those responsible, and that the trial court verdict be quashed.
Freedom Now represented Farmonov as his international pro bono counsel. In November 2012, in response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued Opinion 65/2012, finding Farmonov’s detention to be in violation of international law and calling for his immediate release. In September 2017, Freedom Now filed a second petition with the Working Group regarding the charges filed against Farmonov in April 2015.