On 22 March 2016 the Jizzak region criminal court heard the appeal of Aramais Avakian, Furkat Juraev, Bektemir Umurzakov and Akmal Mamatmurodov and ruled to uphold the original sentences. At the hearing the defendants stated that they had suffered severe torture during the investigation.
Defendant Furkat Juraev, who received a 12-year prison sentence in February 2016, began his remarks with “Today I will speak the truth.” He stated that on 3 September 2015 he was abducted by unidentified persons in civilian dress, close to a liquor store.
“Then I learned that they were from the National Security Service (SNB). And that very day, and every day following, they beat and tortured me.” Juraev rolled up his trousers to show to the judge and the courtroom his legs, black and blue from the beatings.
“They threatened that if I didn’t do as they said and sign the papers that they would throw me under a train and spread rumors that I had in this way committed suicide,” said Juraev. He requested that the judge help to protect his family.
An Eltuz correspondent spoke with Juraev’s mother, Makhkam Juraeva. She stated that her son had told her that those present in the courtroom wept upon hearing his testimony.
“My son was highly agitated. He described what had happened to him, and showed the bruises on his body where he had been tortured. ‘Why have they put brought us into such a condition? Your Honor, why are we subjected to this humiliating treatment? To kill, eliminate SNB officers, blow up the government — we had never thought of these things! The SNB officers invented them and piled it onto us. They portrayed us as jihadists on our way to Syria. I don’t care anymore! I’m not afraid of the SNB! If they want to kill me, go ahead, I have nothing to do with this, I’m not guilty! I don’t admit to anything! And my friends are also not guilty in any way. They forced us to slander each other. Your Honor, alright, I’ll stay here, but free my friends!’ This is what my son Furkatjon said, and we all cried,” his mother told Eltuz.
But the defendant’s distressed speech had no effect on the judge. Having listened to the testimony about severe torture, the judge asked Juraev, coldly: “Do you know the SNB officers who tortured you?” Juraev answered, “No, they did not identify themselves.”
Defendant Avakian testified after Juraev, stating that he supported Furkat’s testimony, and that the accusations against him were false and an SNB invention. Avakian denied the accusations against himself. He stated that he had never been a member of a criminal group, that Juraev had not summoned him to jihad, and that he had never participated in discussions about assassinations of SNB officers, police or government representatives. He and his friends had suffered severe electric shock torture during the investigation. Avakian showed the courtroom the bruises on his body.
“I will never betray Uzbekistan. On the contrary, if troubles arise in this country we’ll be the first to rise to its defense! I had never before seen the books and discs on religion that were found during the search. I don’t have links with religious Islam, I’m Christian and I’m not planning to change my religion,” said Avakian, an ethnic Armenian. He had received a 7-year prison term from the court of first instance.
The third defendant, Bektemir Umurzakov, sentenced to a 6-year prison term, also alleged serious torture. He recounted that he had been forced to slander Juraev and Avakian during the investigation. Umurzakov stated that the charges leading calls to jihadism and conspiring to blow up government buildings were an invention of the SNB.
In answer to judge Boimurodov’s question, “Then why did you sign confessions?” Umurzakov replied, “Your Honor, even a donkey would sign the papers and confess that he was a rabbit after torture by our investigators.” His answer elicited a smile from the judge and from prosecutor Okbutaev.
The first instance hearing of this case took place on 19 February 2016 in the Jizzak region criminal court. 5 of the 13 men charged were found guilty of serious crimes including violation of the constitutional order and creating and participating in an extremist religious organization. They received 6 to 12-year prison sentences.
Aramais Avakian never pled guilty. The remaining defendants — Furkat Juraev, Bektemir Umurzakov, Akmal Mamatmurodov and Dilshod Alimoviy — accepted the charges and asked forgiveness of the Uzbek people.
Further to their conviction by the first instance court, however, these defendants reversed their position and lodged a written appeal for reconsideration of the case.
The claims of torture submitted at the appeal trial did not have an impact, and the judge upheld the prison terms.
U.S. Embassy representatives Anton Cooper and Mamed Askerov, and human rights defender Surat Ikramov, attended the 22 March 2016 appeal hearing.