http://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2016/10/17/feature-02
| Crime & Justice

Uzbekistan to pardon thousands of prisoners

By Maksim Yeniseyev

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An Uzbek judge pronounces sentence during a public criminal trial. Screenshot of the programme Supreme Court on TV Channel Uzbekistan, shot on October 12. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- The Senate of Uzbekistan October 12 announced an amnesty timed to coincide with the celebration of Constitution Day on December 8.

During the amnesty, they will release women, minors, the elderly, foreigners, and those who have committed a crime for the first time.

Other criminals can get a reduction in their sentences, but this will not apply to convicted extremists and terrorists.

For the safety of the public, they will remain in custody, officials said. However, those Uzbek citizens, who fought in the Middle East as part of religious extremist groups, also have the chance to be pardoned. Under Uzbek law, they can be exempted from punishment even before the trial - if they repent and actively render assistance to the justice system.

The acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, included the issue of amnesty in the agenda for the Senate meeting October 12. An amnesty for Constitution Day is declared annually in Uzbekistan.

"Amnesty is a manifestation of the humanity that is characteristic of our people. It has become a good tradition," said Javokhir Mavlonov, a spokesman for the Senate. "Last year, amnesty impacted 55,000 people. 3,000 of them were released, and the rest had their prison sentences reduced."

"This year, people who have committed minor crimes, or committed them for the first time out of negligence, will be granted amnesty. In addition, socially vulnerable groups will be entitled to it - juveniles, women, men over 60 years old, and foreign nationals. Criminals who acted willfully will get reduced sentences," he said.

Offering 'a new life'

"Amnesty will not affect those who committed a crime as part of an organisation that presents a security threat to the country and to society," said Mavlonov.

In Uzbekistan, according to the Criminal Code, the crimes of terrorism and undergoing training and traveling abroad to participate in terrorist organisations are considered to be crimes against peace and security.

However, despite the fact that former terrorists and those extremists returning from the Middle East are not eligible for amnesty, they still have the chance to be pardoned and rehabilitated even before the start of the trial.

The amendments, introduced in 2011 into the Criminal Code, grants former extremists, after returning home, the possibility to start "a new life", explained Muslima Khakimova, a lawyer with the Mirabad District Bar Association in the city of Tashkent.

"An Uzbek citizen who went through training, or tried to leave the country to participate in an extremist organisation, will be exempted from liability if he [or she] voluntarily reports about it, actively assists in identifying other people connected to the crime, reports places, facts, and names, and if he [or she] did not commit another crime – murder, for example," she said.

The law on terrorists is harsher

"In this case, exemption from liability is possible only if a terrorist voluntarily refuses to prepare for a terrorist attack and prevents its onset," Khakimova said.

This kind of practice was already applied in Uzbekistan in December 2015, when two young Uzbeks decided to join "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) after a summons from a relative.

"In the fall of 2014, Rakhmatulla Esonturdiev from Surkhandarya Province joined ISIL and took part in combat operations. He persuaded his relatives, Yusuf Esonturdiev and Abdurakhmon Eshkobilov, to leave Uzbekistan for Syria. In January 2015, they were caught by law enforcement agencies on their way to the Kyrgyzstan border. Rakhmatullah himself died soon after while fighting for ISIL. The court took into account the complete repentance on the part of these young men, and made the decision to release them," said Arif Atajanov, a spokesman for the General Prosecutor's Office.

Punishment for those who are unrepentant will apply to the fullest extent of the law, Atajanov said. Earlier this month, 11 residents of Khorezm Province were sentenced to periods of incarceration ranging from 5 to 8 years, he said.

"While earning money abroad, they founded a religious extremist cell. They held meetings, collected funds to render assistance to ISIL, and planned to leave for Syria," Atajanov said. "Four of them managed to do that, and they were convicted in absentia and placed on the wanted list. The rest received punishment in their home country."

Introducing house arrest

In August last year, Uzbekistan's parliament introduced the possibility of house arrest into the Criminal Code.

Since this measure was introduced, 431 people were placed under house arrest instead of in prison, Olim Khaitov, the chairman of the Supreme Court's judicial panel for criminal affairs, told journalists in October.

"In the bounds of its authority, the courts are taking possible measures to mitigate punishments. Over the last 15 years, the number of those sentenced to imprisonment has been reduced by 20.9%," he said.

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Ninety-nine percent of those convicted in Uzbekistan on grounds related to religion and terrorism are citizens who follow Islam and have nothing to do with extremism and terrorism.

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