Esfandiar Adinabay: Torture video

Esfandiar Adinabay: Torture video

In the past few years mobiles were also helpful in bringing lots of other irregularities to the attention of the public in Tajikistan. Similar cases were reported in other former Soviet republics, like Georgia. One of such cases was about widespread torture in prisons in Tajikistan. On September 20, 2012, an inmate of one of the prisons in Dushanbe, Hamzeh Ikramzadeh, died in suspicious conditions. His relatives called journalists early next morning to inform them that his body would be delivered that day. They told journalists that Hamzeh called them before and said that he urgently needed money. He told them that he would give money to a prison officer and if he didn’t give it within a certain period, he would not remain alive. They said they were desperately looking for some loan to save Hamzeh's life. (1)

During the mourning ceremony, relatives allowed journalists to take pictures of his tortured body. They even took some photos themselves and sent them to different media through mobiles. The pictures were shocking. As they always do in such cases, the prison authorities denied any wrongdoing. The head of the Prisons Department of the Ministry of Justice, Izzatulla Sharipov, nicknamed “Zorro", conducted a number of interviews with the media following this incident. He repeatedly said that Hamzeh had committed suicide, but promised, 'we will investigate and anybody found to have tortured him will be punished.'

When asked about the condition of inmates, he also said in an interview to BBC two months later that prison was not a sanatorium. He said that although prisons were not the best place for living, the conditions were far better than before and cases of torture were absent. (2)

Days after, a number of women, relatives of Hamzeh, protested opposite the building of the Prisons Department. He met them and promised that authorities will conduct an investigation into the case. A prison doctor giving a post-mortem note said that Hamzeh had hanged himself. Asked why then there is an iron print in his body, he said 'we put bottles of warm water on his body to save his life in the last minutes.' (3)

Perhaps prison officials thought that the case would die down. But soon afterwards, a released prisoner told journalists lots of things about the death of Hamzeh in prison.

Saidali Kazakov, the former inmate who was released in on 8 October 2012 after seven years of serving in prison, told journalists:

“A week before Hamzeh's death, one night six prison staff led by Mahmud Ismailov and Sherafgan (special force) came to our cells and pulled Hamzeh out. I saw with my own eyes how they were pulling him away. I went near Hamzeh's cell to ask his neighbours what had happened there. They said they (the prison guards) had beaten up Hamzeh. Early morning I saw Mahmud (a guard) who was bandaging his hand. I asked if he had beaten Hamzeh up and was therefore was now bandaging his hand. He said nothing and went away. After that I have never seen Hamzeh again as he was transferred to Shizo (solitary confinement) for 15 days. Later, his brother called me and said that Hamzeh was asking for money. He told me that prison staff demanded 2000 dollars to release Hamzeh from Shizo. I told him not to bring any money, as Hamzeh was innocent. He remained there for a week and then died. They kept him in Shizo for 15 days, so that his injuries would be treated and he would have no more evidence to complain about torture." (4)

A mobile video of six prisoners showing signs of torture in their bodies appeared in YouTube after they were transferred from a prison in Dushanbe to the northern town of Khojand in December 2012.

In a number of newspaper interviews and an online question and answer with readers of Tojnews private news agency on October 12, 2012, Saidali Kazakov revealed that torture and bribery was widespread across the prison system in Tajikistan.

In prison they use batons, fetters and straitjackets ‘for medical treatment'. They give meals three times a day, but you can't eat it. They give porridge in the breakfast, a food made of water, peas and beans at launch. They give good food when special commissions come to investigate the prison condition. When we wanted to meet our parents, we would have to give the prison staff 100 to 200 samanis (20 to 40 dollars) in bribe. If my relatives sent me money, the staff receiving it would ask for his share. They get 10 out of each 100 samanis. Sometimes it is up to 30 samanis. In order to meet your relatives, you would have to pay 120 samani to the chief in advance, if there was no place (in the meeting room), then they would ask for 150 samanis (more than 30 dollars)." (5)

Prosecutors conducted an investigation and upheld the prison doctor's claim that Hamzeh Ikramzadeh had committed suicide. But evidence came out of the prisons - thanks to mobile phones - on January 2013. A mobile video of six prisoners showing signs of torture on their bodies appeared on YouTube. They showed signs of torture and also confirmed that Hamzeh Ikramzadeh was tortured to death by prison staff. This mobile video was apparently taken after a group of prisoners had been transferred from the capital Dushanbe to the northern city of Khojand. They alleged that authorities transferred them to the north to prevent them from giving testimonies to lawyers investigating Ikramzadeh's case. (6)

On January 2013, a number of people, mainly family members of Hamzeh Ikramzadeh, organised a protest near the Office of the Prosecutor General. Later President Rahman intervened and the Prosecutor General himself supervised another investigation and brought charges against some of the prison staff. Finally, on 29 May, one of the main culprits in Hamzeh's case, Ismail Mahmudov, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Ikramzadeh's family were not satisfied with the outcome of the trial, although the case at least brought about partial justice. It also had a great impact on the way prisoners are treated in Tajikistan. Prior to the trial, there had been lots of allegations of torture, but no such strong evidence was available. So the government could not be held accountable.

Meanwhile, among the prison officials nobody else was punished, the Head of the Prisons Department of the Ministry of Justice and all other prison and justice officials still hold their positions, the prison doctor also continues in his job. Instead, authorities in northern city of Khojand brought a criminal case against two of the prisoners in charges of leaking ‘a fake prison torture’ video. Their trial is still continuing in a court in Khojand.

Following this, there were even some changes in the courts’ behavior in trying cases of torture. For the first time in the history of Tajikistan, on 6 March 2013, a court ruled that the Interior Ministry should pay about US$10,000 to a family of a person who had died after police torture two years ago. Around the same time, the Ministry of Justice paid over US$6000 dollars to the family of Ismail Bachajanov, another torture victim, who initially requested about US$ 150,000, to avoid court ruling. (7)

All these came after Tajik parliament changed the legislation in February 2012 to introduce a new clause on torture in the Criminal Code of Tajikistan. This reveals that while mobile communication provides a tool for sharing information, it is the continuous following of the story by journalists, pressure from civil society and public debates that will bring about real changes in governance.


1. BBC Persian (Tajik) page, Амир Икромзода: "Бародарам дар асари шиканҷа даргузашт" (Amir Ikramzadeh: My brother died of torture), published on 21 September 2012, accessed at

2. BBC Persian (Tajik) page, Шарифов: 'Ман барои зиндониён шароити хуб муҳайё кардаам' (Sharipov: Condition of inmates are satisfactory), published on 28 November 2012, accessed at

3. Tojnews, Эътирози хешовандони маҳбуси кушташуда (Protest of relatives of dead prisoner), published on 28 September 2012, accessed at

4. An interview published on BBC Persian (Tajik) page, Маҳбуси собиқ: 'Аз зиндонҳо касе солим бадар намеравад' (Former inmate: no one leaves prisons healthy) on 13 October 2012, accessed at

5. Tojnews, Фошгӯиҳои ҳамнишини маҳбус Ҳамза Икромзода (Revelations by an inmate witnessing the death of Hamzeh Ikramzadeh), published on 12 October 2012, accessed at

6. Youtube video “Зверское издевательство над заключенными в Таджикистанe” (Brutal treatment of prisoners in Tajikistan), published 12 December 2012, accessed at

7. ASIA-Plus website, Bachajanov’s widow receives compensation of 30,000 samanis, published on 06 March 2013, accessed at

About author:

Esfandiar Adinabay is the first ever Reuters journalist fellow from the Central Asian Republic of income-poor and internet-poor Tajikistan, which used to form part of the Soviet Union. 

Esfandiar, who works for the BBC World Service’s Persian Section out of the capital Dushanbe and was sponsored by BBC Media Action, has written a very comprehensive study of the potential and actual role of new and social media in bringing about social and political change in his country.

 In his paper called Changing media and politics in Tajikistan’, Esfandiar  examines whether the growing access to new communication technology has resulted any changes in people's lives.  He looks at how new media tools are filling the information gap caused by the lack of access to traditional media, such as TV, newspapers and radio stations; and how new ideas and concepts about democracy, human rights and freedom can reach the population through new media technology and whether these are able to make the government more accountable.

In the course of his research he interviewed a number of intellectuals, journalists, politicians and government officials.  He also interviewed a random sample of Facebook users from Tajikistan and abroad, including some of the vast number of Tajik labour migrants in Russia.  He selects case studies related to mobiles and Facebook, because the former is the most widespread tool of communication in Tajikistan and the latter the most popular place where Tajiks converse with each other and discuss a variety of issues of relevance to their country.  In one example he examines, the use of mobile phones to spread videos of torture victims did help to hold the authorities to account.

 In his conclusions, Esfandiar quotes the author Clay Shirky’s statement that ‘the potential of social media lies mainly in their support of civil society and the public sphere – change measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months’. In Shirky’s words, as the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, and as people gain greater access to information, there will be more opportunities to engage in public speech and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action.

Esfandiar argues that although the presidential election at the end of last year did not bring about any serious change in Tajikistan, it was a milestone for social media discussions that may help – in the longer term - to bring about social and political transformations in the country. He says the growing usage of communication devices, such as mobiles and IPads, which provide more opportunity for interaction and conversation, will facilitate the flow and exchange of information as well as coordinated action.

He concludes that ‘although Tajikistan's internet penetration rate is not as high as that of some other developing countries, the growing expansion of the internet, social media and other communication tools is inevitable.  In other words, the hope of preventing the impact of the new (social) media in many countries and societies is a futile one.

Esfandiar Adinabay, "Changing media and politics in Tajikistan"