Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Secret Trial Hands Ex-Uzbek Diplomat Sentence for Treason

The unfolding of Yusupov’s case stands in direct contrast with the Uzbek government’s professions of progress and reform.

Catherine Putz
Secret Trial Hands Ex-Uzbek Diplomat Sentence for Treason
Credit: Catherine Putz

After multiple delays, a secretive military court in Uzbekistan has sentenced a retired diplomat with a history of severe mental illness to five and a half years in prison for treason. 

The family of Kadyr Yusupov, 68, who served in high level diplomatic posts in Europe, including at the OSCE and in the UK, say they are disappointed at the verdict but remain hopeful. “We will continue working on his release,” Yusupov’s son Babur wrote in an emailed statement to The Diplomat.

Yusupov’s troubles came in the wake of a suicide attempt in December 2018. The former diplomat, who his family says had been struggling with schizophrenia for some time, reportedly sent his three children a message via Telegram on December 3 minutes before throwing himself into the path of a train in the Tashkent metro. As Eurasianet reported last summer, “The details of what happened in the hours that followed are hazy.”

Yusupov was questioned for hours in the hospital by the Uzbek successor to the KGB, the State Security Service, and then made a startling confession to his son, Temur, under the watchful eyes and ears of security personnel: He’d been spying for a Western country since 2015. 

In the months that followed, Yusupov was moved from the hospital to a detention facility and a state-appointed lawyer provided. Yusupov’s family sought their own counsel for Kadyr’s case but their lawyer was unable to visit his client for weeks. Once he did, according to a Eurasianet report, Kadyr — unkempt and the family believes denied access to his medication — dismissed the lawyer.

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The trial, which began in June, was held behind closed doors and information about what evidence, if any, was presented is unavailable.

According to the family, Kadyr was subjected to severe psychological torture in his months of detention.

“Right from the start of his detention my father suffered a litany of violations of his rights in pre-trial detention,” Babur told The Diplomat. “We hoped that once the trial started in June we would be able to address some of them in court especially given the much publicised reforms in the judicial system,” he continued.

The unfolding of the Yusupov case stands in direct contrast with the Uzbek government’s professions of progress and reform. In a much-welcomed decree in November 2017, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took a stand against torture, ordering that courts be prohibited from using evidence obtained through torture in court. The decree also requires prosecutors to check whether torture — physical or psychological — was employed against either a defendant or their relatives. As Human Rights Watch has noted, “If enforced, the decree could help prevent torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Uzbekistan.”

But Yusupov’s family’s claims of torture and harassment appear to have fallen on deaf ears in the Uzbek justice system.

Since November, when the UN Committee Against Torture mentioned the Yusupov case four times in their final country report, the verdict was been delayed six times. The final sentence, five and half years, was less than what had been threatened but still difficult for Yusupov’s family to bear.

“[I]t is still very tough for us, especially as my father just celebrated his 2nd birthday in prison alone. He turned 68 in December,” Babur told The Diplomat.

“My father lost a lot of weight and looks frail, although his eyes are still shining and he was happy to see the family, if only for 20 minutes in the courtroom and behind bars. This was our first family meeting since 10th December 2018.”

The Yusupov family intends to appeal the verdict domestically as well as making appeals to international bodies, such as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.