Germany urged to seize 'Butcher of Tashkent'

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The Independent Online

Where is Zokirjon Almatov the torturer-in-chief of Uzbekistan and why has he not been arrested by the German authorities?

That is the question that human rights activists and torture survivors, as well as those who lived through the 13 May massacre of unarmed protesters in the streets of Andijan, are asking themselves.

Mr Almatov, Uzbekistan's Interior Minister, travelled to Germany for medical treatment despite being at the head of a European Union sanctions list and was in a clinic in Hanover last week when his victims filed a suit in a German courtcalling for his prosecution for crimes against humanity. The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, also called on Germany to initiate a criminal investigation and prosecute Mr Almatov but nothing was done.

On Thursday, the German federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said he would look into a demand by Human Rights Watch to charge Mr Almatov with crimes against humanity for murder and torture, but as of last night not a finger had been lifted. It was reported moreover, that the man known as the "Butcher of Tashkent" was safely back in Uzbekistan.

It has also emerged that Uzbekistan is going to allow Germany to keep its military base on Uzbek soil, after threatening to close it down. Germany's defence ministry said the long-term deal will ensure that Termez will remain a hub for its logistics for Afghanistan, including the evacuation of wounded Nato soldiers.

Despite being considered a stalwart ally of Washington in the "war on terror" earlier this year, the Uzbek government booted the US out of a vast former Soviet military base in the southeast of the country and demanded that Nato withdraw all its troops and stop overflights. This followed Western criticism of the government's bloody crackdown on mass protests in the city of Andijan in May. As many as 700 people were mown down by interior ministry troops under Mr Almatov's command. The Uzbek authorities dispute the account of eyewitnesses saying187 people - mainly "terrorists" - died.

Mr Nowak was blunt in his statement on the need to prosecute Mr Almatov: "Torture appears to be used indiscriminately against persons charged with serious crimes such as acts against state interests, as well as petty criminals and others," he said yesterday. Mr Nowak also reminded the German government that all torture victims had a right to legal redress, that torture was subject to universal jurisdiction and that governments were under the obligation to investigate allegations independently of where such acts have occurred.

Berlin has let it be known that Mr Almatov was granted permission to have a life-saving operation in a Hanover cancer clinic. When Mr Almatov's victims filed suit, there was no reaction from the prosecutor and yesterday the German embassy in Tashkent referred queries to the foreign ministry in Berlin who forwarded them back to the prosecutor's office

* An opposition politician was arrested at Tashkent airport yesterday after returning from a trip to Russia where she criticised the Ukbek president, Islam Karimov. Nodira Khidayatova, a senior member of the Sunshine Coalition, was arrested at passport control and taken to the prosecutor's office, her sister said.