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Amnesty condemns use of torture in Tajikistan

Amnesty International condemned Thursday the routine use of torture and beatings at detention facilities in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan.

The rights group said in a report detailing a series of cases of abuse that victims of ill-treatment and their families are often afraid of reporting their experiences for fear of police reprisals.

"The torture methods used by the security forces are shocking: electric shocks, boiling water, suffocation, beatings, burning with cigarettes, rape and threats of rape," said Amnesty's Tajikistan researcher Rachel Bugler. "The only escape is to sign a confession or sometimes to pay a bribe."

Earlier this year, lawmakers in the former Soviet republic on Afghanistan's border approved changes to the criminal code that made torture an offense punishable by prison sentences of between five and 15 years.

But Amnesty's Bugler said officials' promises to uphold human rights have not been kept in practice. Bugler said authorities unofficially create incentives for torture by positively assessing law enforcement officers on the basis of the number of cases they solve.

Authorities acknowledge that there have been some incidents of torture, but have denied the problem is endemic in the mainly Muslim nation of 7 million people.

The Prosecutor General's Office has said it received 26 reports of torture last year, of which it confirmed five cases.

Tajikistan has for a number of years undertaken a sustained campaign to clamp down on any perceived signs of Islamic radicalism. Amnesty said members of Islamic groups are included among those subjected to ill-treatment in detention.

In a landmark case for Tajikistan, a court in the southern Khatlon province this week began hearings in the trial of a policeman accused of driving an underage detainee to suicide after subjecting him to mistreatment during interrogations over a case of theft.

Prosecutors said this trial is the first of its kind under recently implemented legislation.

Amnesty's recommendations included notifying detainees of their rights during detention and maintaining proper records to provide safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment in custody. It also called for the creation of an independent body to oversee security forces.

"These are the steps that will bring Tajikistan closer to the rule of law and closer to fulfilling its international obligations," Bulger said.