Case History Ilhom Ismanov

Each story recounted in this book resembles the previous one in some way, while also being unique.  Ilhom Ismanov's story is unique in that, after all the torment and pain he suffered he has SURVIVED. And that alone instills hope in his wife and two children, gives them strength to keep going until they are reunited.

But until that happens, 3 November 2010, the date Ilhom was abducted, will remain a nightmare for his family. It was a day that turned their lives upside down and destroyed all their plans and dreams. The abduction was planned in advance and undisguised: several masked people brandishing guns pulled a bag over Ilkhom's head right outside their house in broad daylight and forced him into a car.

Ilhom Ismanov's wife Zarina didn't sleep a wink that night. It wasn't until the following day that she learned that her husband wasn't held by an frightful imaginary gang but rather in the Regional Department for the Fight against Organized Crime (RDFOC) in Khujand.

The family wasn't allowed to see Ismanov until 6 November... When they arived Ilhom was not able to stand up or even move as his legs had been broken. Throughout the meeting with his wife Ilkhom remained seated in a chair, wearing only his underwear. An observant person, Zarina noticed that his fingers bore marks of being burnt by electricity and she also spotted strange cuts on his neck. But as soon as she leaned down to examine the wounds closer, she was unceremoniously led out.

That night Zarina couldn't get any sleep. The thought – “He’s been tortured” – kept going  around her head, tormenting her, yet there was nothing she could do to help him. Realizing how helpless she was made her feel even more terrible.

On 12 November, the tenth day of his de facto arrest, as Ismanov appeared before the Khujand City Court to be remanded in custody, he arrived in chains with a hood over his head. He could hardly walk on his broken legs, like a real martyr…

This was his first opportunity to meet his defence lawyer and show him the burn marks on is hands and tell him that boiling water had been poured over his head during interrogation. The lawyer immediately applied for a forensic medical examination but the court turned down his request. The following day the court remanded Ismanov in custody. A separate court ruling raised the unlawful actions by RDFOC officers.

Long weeks of pre-trial detention followed. Ilhom fell ill with pneumonia and bronchial asthma. In addition to food parcels Zarina now had to supply him with medication in the detention centre. Incidentally, the family provides all the medication for Ilhom until this day.

Zarina’s heart sinks as she recalls what the defence lawyer told her after he first met Ilhom on 19 February 2011. Nobody else was present at the meeting and so Ilhom was able to describe exactly what happened while he was held by the RDFOC – he told his lawyer that the officers applied low frequency electric shocks to his body, that he had fainted repeatedly and was subsequently attached to a 220 volt socket…The pain was so excruciating that at one point, not able to take the torture any longer, he grabbed the electricity cable and struck himself on the chest. When he fainted, the police panicked and dragged him to a storeroom where they drenched him in cold water. They threatened him with reprisals if he complained about being tortured. On 19 April 2011, when his wife came to visit him, Ilkhom informed her that a prosecutor in the Committee for National Security building forced him to sign a statement that he hadn’t been tortured under threat of torture.

As a matter of fact, Ilhom says he had been subjected to rather sophisticated forms of torture – his heels were beaten with batons, a bag was pulled over his head and tightened from both sides, making him faint with pain. And all this happened on a daily basis…

Numerous appeals against unlawful detention, use of torture and against being denied access to legal counsel brought no results. The response from the Department of Internal Security of the Sughd Regional Ministry of Internal Affairs said the allegations of torture and being denied access to legal counsel had not been confirmed. RDFOC officers at the Sughd Regional Department of Internal Affairs were solely disciplined for a delay in filing the protocol of detention. 

The ruling from the disciplinary proceedings states: “On 3 November 2010 Major Golib Nadirovich Kadyrov, special agent with the Regional Department for the Fight against Organized Crime at the Sughd Regional Department of Internal Affairs, brought I. Ismanov to the station and held him there until 10 November 2010 in contravention of the Criminal Procedures Code of the Republic of Tajikistan.  G.N. Kadyrov had carelessly and unjustifiably delayed the examination of the case material, failing to act in a timely and lawful manner… Thee head of the same department, K. Nasimov, did not exercise oversight of his subordinates during the investigation; he failed to ensure they took lawful decisions in a timely manner and failed to ensure the errors committed by G. Kadyrov in the course of his work were eliminated.  K. Nasimov and G. Kadyrov therefore deserve to be disciplined for a thoughtless discharge of their professional duties and unjustified delays in examining the materials of I. Ismanov’s case.”

When the trial of the so-called Istaravshan 53 began in the summer of 2011, Ilhom was among the accused. He hoped the trial would provide an opportunity to draw the court’s attention to his torture but his request was not heard. He was convicted of being a member of a criminal association and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

The lawyers ceaselessly fought for justice. Following an appeal hearing in the autumn of 2012 the report on Ilham’s torture as well as 42 similar reports in this case were investigated. However, the Prosecutor General refused to pursue a criminal case in spite of visible traces of torture and other evidence.  Nevertheless, the court of appeal reduced Ismanov’s term of imprisonment to 6.5 years. Due to an amnesty that left only 2 years’ imprisonment left.

Ismanov’s wife Zarina keeps looking out of the window hoping that the long-anticipated day will come soon. Years ago she also used to look out of the window of her flat, waiting for her husband to come back from Russia where he had gone to work. She recalls children’s exclaiming with joy: “Daddy’s back!” and Ilhon handing out presents and sweets.

“I keep thinking of these moments,” Zarina tells me. “Sometimes I feel it will never happen again. What’s happened to my husband has turned not only my life upside down. It has affected our whole family. Ilhomjon’s mother is gravely ill, his father got seriously depressed and hasn’t recovered yet. And I, too, have had heart problems because of what I’ve been through and what I’ve seen. Praise be to Allah, my mother has proved to be emotionally very strong and has shared the burden of everything that has befallen me and has been supporting me as best as she can.”

Zarina is convinced that all accusations against her husband are trumped up and unproven. “There is not an iota of truth in the accusations against my husband. They made him incriminate himself under horrendous torture. It’s like the Russian proverb: ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.’ And my husband Ilhom Ismanov ended up being one of those eggs,” his wife said.

Zarina recalls the difficult time she went through when it all began. She was scared to let her son go to school on his own, she was getting strange telephone calls, kep hearing unusual rustling noises behind the front door, received provocative letters by e-mail.

“Our home was searched, I was questioned about the position in which my husband performs his daily prayers, where he goes and who he meets. Everyone who has ever been in touch with my husband was put under pressure. You see, he’s such a sociable, cheerful and fair-minded person. He was never able to disregard other people’s problems and always did his best to help. But when this tragedy happened many people stopped seeing us fearing the authorities, while others fled the town knowing what methods are used to interrogate people in the ‘departments’. My older son has become very withdrawn, he doesn’t go out at all.  Seeing me in tears all the time made him realized something terrible had happened to his dad. But Allah is merciful. His mercy is boundless, he gave Ilhomjon the strength to endure all the torture, to stay alive for the sake of his children, of his family. Now that it seems the worst is over what I worry about is that the worst may be yet to come. We are under constant pressure from the authorities, whenever there’s the the slightest trouble in town we are under close scrutiny,” Zarina tells me.

She also says that as a result of what happened to Ilhom her family has lost faith in the country that calls itself democratic and a state of law. “We have been exposed to blatant lies from the judges and the forensic experts. When my husband was only a suspect, he was taken to court to be remanded in custody, his hands and feet shackled, it was done to cover up the traces of torture. I saw everything with my own eyes. I see this picture all the time. The sense of injustice and especially of helplessness in the face of the tyranny of some state officials has left a painful mark in our hearts”, the woman continues. 

She now lives from one visit to the next. Before packing things for her husband into a chequered bag she always double checks that she has bought all his medication. “Whenever I visit my husband in prison and see him behind bards wearing the black prison garb I have only one wish – for this nightmare to be over,” Zaira confdides.

She dreams that when the two years are over the sun’s bright rays will sparkle gain in her sons’ curls and somewhere, in a far away country, they will happily call out again: “Daddy’s back!”

In May 2015 Ilhom Ismanov was released after completing his term and immediately left for the Russian Federation together with his family.