Amnesty International has condemned authorities in Uzbekistan for sentencing an ethnic Armenian man to 7 years in prison, saying he was convicted of Islamic extremism and other grave crimes in an unfair trial.
In a weekend statement, the London-based respected watchdog added its voice to allegations that Aramais Avakian, a 33-year-old fish farmer from the eastern Uzbek town of Jizak, was tortured after being arrested along with four other men in September. It said the final hearing of his closed trial last week lasted for just over one hour.
“Aramais Avakian’s wife was not allowed to enter the court room and according to information received by Amnesty International, his lawyer was disbarred three days before the hearing,” said the statement. “A relative of one of the prosecution witnesses claimed that the witness was beaten and pressured into incriminating the defendant.”
Amnesty noted that all defendants except Avakian pleaded guilty to the accusations of sabotage, production or dissemination of threatening materials, participation in a religious extremist organization and theft levelled against them.
“The first time when Aramais Avakian’s family was able to see him since his disappearance on 4 September 2015, was at a court hearing on 6 January 2016,” it said. “Aramais Avakian’s hands were bruised, he had visibly suffered significant weight loss, and was barely able to stand. He was brought to court on a stretcher.”
Amnesty urged its members and sympathizers to appeal to the Uzbek authorities to investigate the torture allegations, guarantee Avakian’s unfettered access to a lawyer of his choice and ensure that his “appeal hearing is held in full conformity with international fair trial standards.”
Avakian’s mother and ethnic Uzbek wife have insisted that he is a Christian and could not have had any ties with Islamist militants. They also claim that Avakian, who built a fish farm near Jizak two years ago, was arrested just days after the town’s mayor, Sabir Karshibayev, threatened to have him jailed after failing to illegally seize his business.
Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive ex-Soviet states. Its poor human rights record has long been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups.
“Torture is endemic in Uzbekistan’s criminal justice system,” Amnesty said in the statement on Avakian’s case. “It is central to how the Uzbekistani authorities deal with dissent, combat actual or perceived security threats and repress political opposition.”