Letter from Mamadali Makhmudov, written from Chirchik prison, to Mukhammad Solih
Unofficial translation by Human Rights WatchDear Friend,
You know the main events, so I will be brief: in the Navoi city prison I saw Rashid [Rashid Begzhan, M. Salikh’s brother and Makhmudov’s codefendant], and we met several times in secret. He was tortured all the time. All the time. I tried to help him, although I myself needed help. I could have been killed on the slightest of pretexts. So I had to be careful. They endlessly, constantly tortured those prisoners who had been convicted on Article 159 – that is, us. [Article 159: Infringement of the Constitutional Order of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Part I refers to public appeals to unconstitutionally change the existing governmental system, to seize power or remove from office legally elected or appointed representatives, or to unconstitutionally disrupt the territorial unity of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as distribution of material with such content. Part II refers to violent actions aimed at impeding the legal functioning of the constitutional authorities or replacing them with parallel structures not provided for in the Constitution, as well as failure to dissolve structures of power established outside the order established by the Constitution.]
From early morning to evening they made us crawl, run, sing the national anthem; they threw us into the psych ward, etc. There were serial murderers [at the Navoi prison] who had killed six people apiece, but they were barely mistreated.
Rashid’s arms, legs and face were chapped. He withered and shrank in front of my eyes.
I lost consciousness twice in the courtyard and later the doctors said, “It’s rare that anyone in that condition survives.”
But God apparently did not want my death, because I am still breathing.
I wrote a series of poems… I wrote a novel, unfinished, which was smuggled to the outside…
I am now writing a novel in verse.
On the night of 23 April 2001 they dragged me, like wild beasts, to the attendant’s room.
There, sitting sadly in the corner, a ghost of his former self, was Mukhammad [Mukhammad Begzhan, M. Salikh’s brother and another of Makhmudov’s codefendants]. When I saw him, I wanted to cry. We weren’t allowed to greet each other. We nodded by way of greeting. Our escorts began to shout and scold us [for acknowledging each other].
Mukhammad alone was brought over from Kiziltepa.
Then the two of us, yes, just the two of us, were transported to the train by a huge number of cops, armed to the teeth, complete with guard dogs.
As I got on the train, I was hit on the head by a truncheon. Everything went dark.
There were 80 prisoners arrested on Article 159 on the train. All of them were young men.
There was nowhere to sit. There was no water. Our clothes became wet. There was no toilet, we defecated into polyethylene bags.
It was impossible to breathe.
And still they hit us. And yelled, “Enemies of the people! Traitors of the homeland!”
And so, under a rain of truncheon-beatings and insults, we arrived at the Jaslyk death camp on 24 April.
Jaslyk is located 380 kilometers away from Nukus, on Barsa Kelmes island.
Although they call it a “Zone” [camp], it’s a closed colony, there are enclosed prison cells there.
I lost all my writings, my glasses, pen, soap, toothbrush, clothing there…
As we entered the “zone”, the cops fell upon us. They had truncheons, steel pipes… they began to hammer us.
We lay scattered, everywhere blood, blood.
Some had their legs broken, some had their skulls fractured, some were just outright killed.
A constant wailing surrounded us.
I was hit with a steel pipe and lost consciousness.
When I came to, I saw that I was lying naked on the second floor [of the prison]. And I thought of Mukhammad, of whether he was alive?
Then they dragged us to the cells, still naked.
I didn’t see Mukhammad. I kept worrying about him.
The cell doors were 30-40 cm thick, and inside the cell was a three-layer steel grate.
You had to get permission to go to the toilet.
We weren’t allowed to lift our heads. If we did, we’d be beaten to a pulp.
They beat us anyway. They beat us for no reason. They kicked us and yelled, “Traitor to the homeland, Enemy of the people!”
They used force to make us adopt the 13 positions. (It’s said that they’re based on Mossad techniques).
The first position is: The prisoners must declaim in a chorus, “Assalomu alaiku, citizen chief, we love the President of Uzbekistan and the Uzbek people from the bottom of our hearts, we ask forgiveness of the President of Uzbekistan and the Uzbek people. Thank you to the Chief, food is good, health is good, everything is great!
We had to repeat this refrain 500 times a day. Then we had to sing anthems in Uzbek and Karakalpak, hundreds of times!
Then we were forced to crawl naked under the couches, it was dusty and noisy in the cells.
Boys fell like flies, some fainted. I myself almost died there several times.
Dilmurod Umarov died in my cell, a college-educated boy who spoke English well. His young wife in Ferghana is now a widow and his daughter an orphan.
Kamilzhan Makhmud from Margelan died, he was also young. His young wife is now a widow in Margelan.
The food we were given was leftovers, one loaf of bread for six people.
And we were fed under the truncheon, as well.
In my opinion, 80-90 percent of the prisoners there suffered from tuberculosis. And I think that everyone’s insides were rotting.
I only know the situation in one cell. Cries and the thwacking of the truncheon emanated from other cells as well.
You can’t fit all of this into one book.
Two days after our arrival in Jaslyk, the deputy director of the prison, Ravshan Sarikov, called for me. They dragged me to him, kicking me all the way. I was forced onto my knees to greet him.
He asked me who “organized the bombings of 16 February.”
I said that Mukhammad Salikh didn’t have anything to do with the bombings.
He asked about Russian intelligence, I said I didn’t know anything about that.
I said that the time would come when the main perpetrator of the bombings would be found, but many innocent people had already died in the meantime.
He softened his interrogation a bit.
He asked a lot about MS [Mukhammad Salikh]. I said that he was a true patriot.
I told him, “Either you shoot me or I kill myself.” My interlocutor fell silent. After that I was transferred to “strict regime” [the third most severe type of imprisonment; less severe only than “prison regime”]. It is possible that I was eased up on slightly.
The cops said, “This is the Titanic, no one escapes from here alive,” and beat us constantly.
Nothing, not even a sliver, penetrated into the cells.
In two months, I lost 24 kilograms. Then, apparently under pressure from the international community and my relatives’ rallying to my cause, I was transported to Navoi . In the train on the way to Navoi, a young boy named Abdulkarim died, and I held him/supported him . We traveled from Jaslyk to Navoi in a Black Maria, a closed car. With people suffering from tuberculosis. Many fell down. They drank water from one cup, it was hot, June, I would wring out my shirt and it would become wet again.
I thought, who are these people, who gave birth to them? A dog or a wolf? A snake or a fox? I can’t believe that anyone could be capable of such brutality. No one knows how many people have died in Jaslyk. Many die every day at the sanitarium…
The Russian/Chechen, Afghan, Israeli/Palestinian or Bosnian wars are child’s play compared to Jaslyk.
“Stability”, “Peace”, all of that is a lie. When will this mob become human?
The police, the Federal Security Service, and other power structures are holding [onto control].
Everyone had it up to here long ago. The people are hungry and naked. Science, agriculture have died out. There are no salaries. Depravity is everywhere. Everything – riches, the press, radio and television, publications – everything serves one person only.
In Navoi I saw Rashid [M. Salikh’s brother]. I cried. In the toilet I gave him rolling tobacco, gave him bread.
The attitude toward me changed here. I was put in the medical unit.
Rashid and Samandar Kokanov [ERK party member] secretly visited me. When they were discovered, they were forbidden from further visits.
Then Rashid was shipped off to Kiziltepe. It might be easier there, I thought.
I lay in the hospital for 16 days. They put me on an IV, once I lost consciousness and fell down, they thought I was dying, but God gave me life and I opened my eyes again.
There, before my eyes, five prisoners died in six days.
Before departing for Jaslyk, 120 prisoners with tuberculosis were transferred from the 36 th zone to the 46 th zone and “broken,” there was blood everywhere. People with broken arms and legs slithered like snakes along the ground. And 11 prisoners were beaten to death in front of my eyes. Five were raped. One boy from Urchensk, Botir Kozokov, had his face, mouth, and ears ripped off, his teeth pulled out, his arms and legs broken. The boy turned out to be strong. And all of this happened in front of me. All the prisoners from the 46 th zone were witnesses to this. [Botir] died after I left Jaslyk.
Sixteen days later, I was sent to the Sangorod [sanitarium]. I was in bad shape. But I still thought about he who had been left behind in Jaslyk, that is, Mukhammad…
I was put onto the train with a prisoner named Zhalaliddin, who had AIDS. People drank from the same cup as him. I wasn’t told that he had AIDS, and he himself most likely didn’t know it. He was later placed with the 100 [prisoners] who had AIDS.
In Sangorod they treated me a bit better. I thought perhaps this was due to the influence of foreign friends.
Then I was again sent to the 46 th zone, to Navoi.
In Navoi, Mukhammad (Salikh’s brother) and I were in the same zone. Never in my life had I seen such a wonderful person. We talked non-stop.
I helped Mukhammad as best I could.
395 prisoners lived in one barracks. A prisoner arrested on Article 159 was on the second level of a three-level bunk bed.
I was on relatively good terms with the “Chief” and so was able to make Mukhammad’s life a bit easier, lessen the humiliation and beatings he faced. Mukhammad withered in front of my eyes. We supported each other.
Then he was thrown into another division. He crushed stones from morning to night. I sometimes secretly sent him food. His leg was broken during a beating. He suffered horribly from the pain in his leg. I told the “Chief” that the “rats” [informers] broke his leg, and asked that he be freed from working; the “Chief” called him in and promised to ease his workload, but didn’t want to release him from working all together.
We heard rumors that people from the Red Cross would be visiting. Suddenly everything was under renovation. Each prisoner arrested under 159 was warned that if he said anything he’d be punished severely, killed, etc.
One scoundrel from Tashkent wanted to frighten me, I said that I wasn’t afraid to die and that I would tell everyone the truth.
2,000 prisoners were hurriedly removed to other zones. The three-level bunk beds disappeared, everyone was given new sheets and towels. In short, a total put-up job!
Suddenly, on 11 April 2001, I alone was sent to Sangorod.
Before my departure, I told the “Chief” that Mukhammad had been beaten up again. As I was leaving, he was being brought in to the chief, we saw each other in the corridor, but the cop in charge – a Tajik named Ali – didn’t allow us to say goodbye. Mukhammad’s new boots stayed with me. I haven’t seen my Mukhammad, my brother, since then. What a genuinely wonderful person!
I was treated well in Sangorod.
There were two police colonels in my tent. One of them was an agent, but I railed against it all anyway, my voice came ripping out of my throat. I received a lot of shots, they found an ulcer and a polyps in my intestine. They found asthma and bronchitis. Hypertension and three heart attacks! Hemorrhoids and many other different illnesses. They wanted to operate on my stomach, but decided that my heart couldn’t bear the strain and got an official refusal from the head doctor and chief. In actual fact I should have received Invalid, First Category status, even the agent-colonel said so. But an order came down from above not to give me invalid status. All they did was write on my hospital card that I be freed from all work. I found out that much can be done here for money. I needed a lot of money. But where could I get it? My son could barely feed me. They were asking for a lot of money… At that moment, because of something published on the Internet, they decided to deport me. I was once again met by Ravshan Sarikov. The chief of Sangorod was at a meeting at the time. I wrote an official request asking to be sent to Chirchik. After discussing the matter, on 16 June 2001 I was sent here. Chirchik is relatively better. If you have money, you can do something. I work with all my strength. Five or six days ago Khamid Ismailov came to me, you can listen to the BBC and hear everything he has to say for yourself. He couldn’t speak freely, he said he was being held by the throat [constrained]. He is carefully and constantly watching over our Friend [M. Salikh] in Prague. He asked God for help. Our Friend is behaving courageously, his voice is still strong. Here all the cops are spreading rumors that MS [M. Salikh] has been brought here [back to Uzbekistan] and dumped off at the State Security Service basement, the Tashkent prison. The head of the Czech Republic turns out to be very noble. Norway also. And then I heard his voice. Good. I’m following world affairs.
The oppression increased when The Vile One [Karimov] returned from America. Although Chirchik is relatively better, an order came from on high to torture the 159-ers [those imprisoned on Article 159]. Each day ten people are taken away. I was on yesterday’s list. Olim Nurov, Olim Khasanov, Muktor, Ikrom, Iadgar also… I refused [to go]. Today is a bit quieter.
I will inform Otash aka and Arzu aka of this separately. The 159-ers will not receive amnesty. This is being guarded against strictly.
Each has 15 warnings and isolations and reprimands. They say it’s the “year of the elderly”… Here sits a close friend of your father, Akhmat Iuldashev, he is 74. From Gurlen. His four sons are also in prison. The prisons are overflowing, 99 percent of the prisoners are young. There are hundreds of thousands of them. They could beget hundreds of thousands of children!
This is a severe blow to the future of our people… Their children will fall into a moral abyss from poverty. Not all of them, of course…
Dear friend! I wrote this letter to you in one sitting, in a hurry, I was very tired. I didn’t have time to read it over again, having asked one of my trustworthy friends to stand guard. I have described only one of the thousand thoughts swirling about in my soul. I apologize for my mistakes. I greet you, miss you, and embrace you, wish you the greatest from God.
22 April, 2002