Case Story Safarali Sangov

The news of the death of 37-old Safarali Sangov from Dushanbe in March 2011 caused a nationwide outcry. Independent media reported that Sangov died at the Karabolo National Medical Centre four days after being brought there, in a coma and with numerous injuries to the body, from the Department of Internal Affairs Nr. 1 of the capital's Sino district.

The dramatic picture of the day can be pieced together from accounts of Sangov's relatives who witnessed the events that reminiscent of a scene from a horror movie. On the first day of spring, 1 March, several plainclothes men barged into their flat and started to beat Safarali. They searched him without showing a search or an arrest warrant. When the men failed to find anything, one of them presented a police identity card, they handcuffed Safarali, shoved him into a car and took him away.

Safarili's relatives, confused and frightened as they had also been roughed up by the so-called guardians of order, were numbstruck. A few neigbbours and assistants at nearby shop were also unwitting witnesses of the event. Frail Sarvinoz, Safarali's wife, took control of the situation. She flagged down a taxi and asked the driver to follow the LADA 2107 as it sped away. When she spotted the car parked outside the police station, she got out of the taxi.

At the police station an officer told Sarvinoz that her husband found in possession of a kilogramme of heroin. Refusing to believe his version of the arrest, Sarvinoz pulled herself together and brought her husband a hastily prepared lunch, as she knew that after a recent surgery he needed regular meals. She tried to explain to the police officers that Safarali had to eat and asked them to the food on to him but all in vain. Some time later she was told that Safarali had been arrested for hooliganism and would be released soon. Feeling slightly reassured the woman returned home, only to receive a phone call from friends telling her that Safarali suffered an epileptic fit during the interrogation and was taken to hospital.

 Sarvinoz, accompanied by relatives, rushed to Karabolo where the doctors told her that her husband was unconscious and that they in the process of reanimating him, and that he was breathing through a machine.

She overheard the doctors saying that Safarali had “lots of fractures and was completely battered”. One of them let slip that the new patient had a fractured hip joint, spine and nose; another said he had taken an overdose. As transpired later, he tested negative for narcotics. 

Sarvinoz stood by the hospital window, praying to the Almighty to help her Safarali. While in the corridor she overheard some people having a lively conversation about a beating. She pricked up her ears and realized they were talking about Safarali and recognized the people who relished recounting it in detail as the policemen who had come to arrest her husband…

Safarali's condition improved on the next day and he started to open his eyes. Alas, the improvement proved to be only temporary. No sooner had Sarvinoz sighed a sigh of relief believing the crisis to be over, than on 5 March the medical staff gave her the sad news of Safarali's death. Sarvinoz had to lean on her relatives. She felt the ground caving under her feet as the doctor's words echoed in her head: “Safarali has died.” When she recovered somewhat his wife wanted to see the deceased but some policemen who were present blocked her way to the intensive care unit. Meanwhile Sangov’s body was secretly taken out by the back exit and taken to the morgue for a post-mortem. Later on the body was handed over to the family to be buried.

What could have happened in the course of the few hours that passed between Sangov’s arrest and the time he arrived at the hospital for reanimation, with multiple injuries? His relatives are certain that he had been subjected to brutal beating and torture at the police station.

The law enforcement officials presented a contradictory version of events: Sangov had allegedly committed suicide by throwing himself off the stairs at the police station and hitting his head against a wall. “He managed to escape and throw himself off the second floor and when he was apprehended and taken back to the office he managed to break away again and smash his head against the wall, which resulted in the lethal injuries,” the prosecutor said in court.

That is to say, the official bodies concluded that Sangov was to blame for his own death and that the police officers were to blame only for not preventing it…

On 11 March, following the funeral and the first mourning rites, Sangov's widow received a certificate issued by the Ministry of Health National Centre for Forensic Examinations, bearing the same date. The the cause of death was given as brain damage. The expert conclusion was based on the post-mortem examination carried out in the morgue.

Soon afterwards the Sino District Procurator opened a criminal investigation into Sangov's death and accused two officers based Sino 1 Police station – senior criminal investigations department operatives Abdurakhmon Yakubov and Kodir Hasanov – of negligence. The Office for Human Rights and the Observance of Law, Amnesty International and a number of other NGOs urged the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation, ensuring an independent, impartial and fair trial and bringing those responsible to justice. However, the prosecutor put off taking action and did not respond to any requests from the lawyer and the aggrieved party. The lawer was forced to demand that the investigation into the case be handed over to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Tajikistan or the Dushanbe City Prosecutor. Eventually the case was handed over to the Prosecutor in the capital for further investigation. However, in July 2012 the case against Yakubov and Khasanov was dropped due to amnesty.

…Sarvinoz often remembers the year 1993. She had just finished technical college and was a trainee at TSUM, the capital's most prestigious shopping centre. They were introduced by Safarali's sister. It was fate, Sarvinoz now says. She immediately fell in love with the unassuming and shy Safarali. And he couldn't imagine his life without Sarvinoz either. A few months later the young man sent marriage brokers to the parents of his beloved. Before long they celebrated their wedding, with guests wishing the newlyweds a long and happy married life.

In 1996 their son Sunatullo was born. Now he is in first year of a communications college. They dreamt of a daughter, and took in their niece Firuza at a young age, raising her as their own. “One child calls for another“ the couple used to say, showering both children with the same parental love and care.

Sarvinoz tells me that theirs was an extended family and Safarali was the main breadwinner. His parents were elderly and he was basically the only person in the family who worked. They didn’t starve but there were days when they had to tighten their belts.

Safarali worked at a local housing office in Dushanbe.  But it didn’t work out and in 1998 he went to Russia in search of work. There he toiled ceaselessly and tirelessly, saving every penny. He would spend all days on a construction site, then rush to a bakery in the evening to knead dough. He sent money back home regularly every month, knowing that he was his family’s only hope. He even managed to put a little aside and took every opportunity to visit them at home.

However, the relentless work routine and constant economizing left took its toll on his health. Safarali developed stomach problems. In 2005 he returned to Tajikistan for good, underwent an operation and was strictly forbidden to do any hard physical work. But he couldn't stand being idle, and kept finding things to do: he would make a little extra driving a taxi or find other odd jobs.

For a year both he and his wife Sarvinoz worked in a shop, toiling from 8 am to 11 pm every day, without any days off. But the shop had to close down and Safarali started driving a taxi again.

One night Sarvinoz had an idea – if they started their own business they wouldn't have to depend on anyone else. Safarali supported her and they turned one of the rooms in their house into a shop, and started selling all sorts of things and making hot-dogs that became very popular.

Things began to look up for them, but exactly a year ago problems the freshly-minted business couple started experiencing problems: one day the local policeman would come asking for a “share”, the next the tax office would put pressure on them, then something else… Eventually Sarvinoz fell ill as well. Safarali was forced to bring in someone else to run the shop. They had run up some debts when they started the business and couldn’t give it up completely. 

Sarvinoz recalls with a tender smile: “He always helped everyone as much as he could. He was generous with his help, never expecting anything in return. He never harmed anyone. He was very loyal to me and to his whole family: he never went out after shom (the evening prayer), and when he did he would always tell me in advance. He always preferred to be with his family and spend time with us.”

Eventually our conversation touches upon the fateful 1 March 2011. “It was a day like any other, we had no foreboding of the tragedy that was about to befall us. My husband woke up, had breakfast and went out. I followed him and saw him washing the car. He used to call his car arusak (my little bride).  When I asked him why he was washing the car so early in the morning, he said he wanted to clean up his arusak and trade it for a newer one. When he finished cleaning the car, he went to the car salesman and asked me to get his bath ready so that he could clean up when he returned and go to wish his nephew happy birthday. We were always astonished that Safarali remembered everyone’s birthdays in our extended family, he never forgot to congratulate anyone. Around 9 am he left in his car.  My niece Makhina later told me that a distant relative, Kuvvatali, who did car toning, dropped by after my husband had left and asked where Safarali was.  Kuvvatali then asked Makhina not to tell anyone that he had come by and asked about Safarali,” Sarvinoz says.

Meanwhile Safarali traded his Leganza for an Opel. As the Opel wasn’t operational Safarali phoned his nephew and asked him to help him haul the car to a garage. After they hauled the car to the garage, Safarali got hungry.  He invited his nephew to come back home with him for a snack but the nephew said he was busy and left. As Safarali walked home thinking about his next plans, Kuvvatali suddenly ran out of the park and started telling him that the new car needed to be toned. He went on and on at Safarali who tried to chase him away like a troublesome fly. Outside our house he met some neighbours and started asking them about life and health, as is our Eastern custom. Kuvvatali used the moment to step aside and phone someone, saying: “He’s here”. A few moments later several plainclothes men swooped in and got hold of Safarali. He escaped and ran into the yard of his house but the strangers caught up with him, started beating him and took him away…

“And you know happened next,” Sarvinoz said with sadness, tears swelling in her eyes. But the memories were obviously so fresh and the pain of her loss so great she couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks.

I handed her a paper tissue and was about to stop the interview but the woman pulled herself together and continued: “Two years have passed and I still can’t get over it, I still feel lost somehow… I’m in a very bad way. People say that time heals everything, that it’s the best doctor. But, for some reason, time has no sympathy with me and does nothing to heal my wounds. What will become of my son, what will become of us? We have lost our support. All the burdens of life that have landed on my shoulders after my husband’s death are negligible compared to what I have lost – my support and my better half…”

While these case histories were being compiled we learned that Sangov’s widow succeeded in getting financial compensation from Tajikistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs for the moral and material damage she suffered by losing the family’s only breadwinner. The court ordered the law enforcement agency to pay her 46,500 somonis (around 10,000 USD).