(by Nick Paton Walsh)
The elderly mother of a religious prisoner allegedly boiled to death by Uzbekistan’s secret police has been sentenced to six years in a maximum security jail after she made public her son’s torture.
Fatima Mukhadirova, 63, a former market vegetable seller, is the mother of Muzafar Avazov, who died in the notorious Jaslik high security jail in 2002. She was convicted of attempting to “overthrow the constitutional order”.
An Uzbek judge yesterday said she had “set up an underground cell of women propagating the ideas of [banned Islamic fundamentalist group] Hizbut Tahrir”. The secret police had found “incriminating” pamphlets in her flat, a common occurrence in arrests of group members.
The British ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, last night told the Guardian: “This is appalling. She took photographs of her son’s corpse which she gave to the British embassy. The Foreign Office sent them to the University of Glasgow pathology department. Their forensic report said the body had clearly been immersed [in boiling water] because of the tide marks around the upper torso.” He said that Ms Mukhadirova’s continuing campaign seemed to explain why she had been targeted by the authorities. She now had a sentence of hard labour. “The chances of her surviving that are very limited,” he said.
Uzbek prison authorities maintain that Mr Avazov died after inmates spilled hot tea on him. But the forensic report said that his teeth had been smashed and his fingernails torn out. His body was covered in burns.
Mirzakayum Avazov, Ms Mukhadirova’s youngest son, said: “My mother was simply trying to defend her sons and looked for justice. She only wanted those guilty of Muzafar’s death to be punished.”
Mr Murray’s persistent protests over the country’s human rights record contributed towards a recent Foreign Office investigation into his conduct. Uzbekistan has provided the US and UK with an essential military base for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan, and receives more than $100m (?53m) a year in American aid, for being an ally in the “war on terror”. Many believed that No 10 felt that Mr Murray’s remarks drew unnecessary attention to the moral flaws in an important logistical alliance.
The US state department recently indicated that Uzbekistan’s human rights record was so bad that American aid would have to cease.