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NEWS AND EVENTS
January 24, 2005
UZBEKISTAN: RESULTS OF SUSPICIOUS DEATH INQUIRY RELEASED
NEW YORK, January 20, 2005 -- Freedom House reported today on the results of an Uzbekistan government investigation into the cause of the death in custody of a prisoner on January 2.

Based on forensic records and information made available by Uzbek authorities, an independent observation team of international forensic and legal experts agreed that the prisoner, Samandar Umarov, 35, died of natural causes.

However, the inability to conduct a second autopsy precluded definitively and independently ruling out any evidence of antecedent trauma. His relatives had earlier reported that his body had showed signs of torture.

Freedom House facilitated the deployment of the team, which included Dr. Ronald Suarez, a forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner of Morris County, New Jersey, Drago Kos, a criminal investigator from Slovenia and chairman of the Anti-corruption Commission of the Council of Europe, and two Uzbek human rights defenders, Mr. Abdusalom Ergashev, a specialist on religious rights, and Mr. Vakhid Karimov, a medical doctor.

The Uzbek government provided the team with access to what was represented as forensic and medical records and to the medical examiners that performed the autopsy on Mr. Umarov. The team also conducted interviews with relevant medical, legal, and prison personnel, prison inmates, and members of Mr. Umarov\'s family.

\"Freedom House welcomes the government of Uzbekistan\'s cooperation with the international team\'s investigation of Mr. Umarov\'s death, especially its willingness to include Uzbek human rights defenders in the process,\" said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor.

According to Dr. Suarez, the autopsy report and medical records provided by Uzbek authorities were consistent with the officially announced cause of death, identified as spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage, or stroke. Medical records indicate Mr. Umarov had two major hospitalizations for heart-related problems, and had in addition, multiple doctor visits for the same problems. Forensic findings from the autopsy of Mr. Umarov\'s body, including those independently verified by Dr. Suarez, appear consistent with Mr. Umarov\'s pre-existing medical conditions, which included hypertension.

The findings of the team were based on all available investigative and scientific information. However, Dr. Suarez has cautioned that his findings are not absolutely definitive since the team was not able to independently verify the accuracy of the pathology and autopsy reports through separate scientific tests, or carry out an exhumation and second autopsy of the deceased. Mr. Umarov\'s family declined to give permission for an exhumation numerous times.

While the autopsy report did not include an exhaustive examination of all possible signs of trauma the report did rule out trauma on the neck and head, and photographs of the body seen by the team showed no obvious signs of abuse. However, the team noted that their findings do not mean that Mr. Umarov was never beaten or physically traumatized during his incarceration. The team\'s mandate was to look at an individual case at a particular time, not to assess the broader practice of torture in Uzbekistan.

Beatings and torture of prisoners in Uzbekistan is a routine practice according to various international human rights organizations, independent Uzbek human rights defenders, and the United Nations\' special rapporteur on torture. \"The government of Uzbekistan must take urgent and effective action to stop torture and beatings in Uzbek prisons,\" said Ms. Windsor. \"An important step is to establish a permanent independent commission for investigating serious human rights abuses, with the full participation of local human rights defenders.

The government\'s decision to allow an independent review of its investigation of the Umarov case is a positive sign, and we hope that they will allow greater access by human rights defenders to both prison and detention centers.\"


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