Ozoda: Jaslyk prison is considered the most remote place in Uzbekistan. It is difficult to travel there. Cars cannot get there. It is only possible to arrive by train. You have to go another 8 kilometers from the station to get to the prison. There is one shuttle bus that takes families who come to visit the prisoners. It departs at 6 am. The families have to pass through the security check. Around 10 am we reach the prison. We enter at around 11 o’clock, when the prison visiting hours start. A half an hour after we enter the prison, they bring the person we are visiting from his cell.
In 2006, human rights activist Azam Farmonov was convicted for 9 years of imprisonment on fabricated charges of extortion in the amount of $300 USD.
Ozoda: Of course waits for our visit with anticipation, every 3 – 4 months. He is always wondering if the family will come, if there is such a possibility. For example, the first time we saw him after his arrest was not until a year later. That is when we went to the Jaslyk prison for the first time. In that first year he lost a significant amount of weight. It was not possible to look at him and see the awful condition he was in. The first time I visited him with his mother. We were crying as we saw him. It is impossible how much weight he lost in one year. It was painful to watch him.
On May 21, 2015 shortly before the date of Farmonov’s release, officials prolonged his sentence for another five years. The formal reason for the extension was “violating prison rules,” a reason often cited by the Uzbek authorities for arbitrary extensions of political prisoners’ sentences.
Ozoda: I had promised to myself and my kids that he would be released. But in 2015, they tried him again, and sentenced him for another five years of imprisonment without cause and based on defamatory statements. He was very sad. Every time I visit him, I encourage him and provide him moral support.
Ozoda Yakubova, Azam Farmonov’s wife, is also the daughter of the well-known human rights defender Tolib Yakubov.
Ozoda: The authorities told him to separate from his wife and children, and to abandon his father-in-law. He was saying: “I was suffering and waiting for so long. Is it a crime be dedicated to my family. If I will not disown you, I will not make it to the freedom in five years.”
Azam Farmonov repeatedly reported that he was subject of torture.
Ozoda: They try to break down the person. They use different methods for this. They were filling 1.5-liter plastic bottles with the water and using them to beat Azam and the other prisoners. They were lifting the prisoners and throwing them down on the floor. These are some of the forms of torture in the prison.
His health deteriorated. On one visit, I noticed his ears were bruised. He had laryngitis. I saw him in such terrible condition.
After extending his sentence, they put a sack on his head and brought him to the prison for those with life sentences, close to Jaslyk. They kept him there for 20 days in solitary confinement.
Azam Farmonov is serving his entire sentence in Jaslyk prison, which is known for ill-treatment of prisoners and is located in an ecological disaster area.
Ozoda: They kept him in prison in Nukus for one year, and regularly tortured him there. Four other prisoners beat him up, at the insistence of the prison authorities, who were trying to break him down. My husband suffered through all this violence. He was waiting for nine years for his scheduled release, and he was expecting to see our children.
My children understand the situation. They do not ask many questions. They do not ask why their father is in prison. They do not bother me with such questions at all.
In Jaslyk, on average 65% of families visiting inmates are visiting political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, those convicted under Articles 159 or 244 of the Criminal Code.
Article 159 of Uzbek Criminal code: Anti-constitutional activity
Article 244 of Uzbek Criminal code: Creating and participating in religious extremist organizations
Ozoda: I know there are political prisoners in Jaslyk; for example, the founder of Rustambank is there. My husband in Jaslyk at the same time he was for 1 – 2 years. Then they transferred him another cell.
I am an optimistic person. I live with a hope, because I have two children. For their sake, their father will be released one day, because my husband is imprisoned for 10 years without a reason.
To conclude my story, I want to tell you, after visiting him the last time, when I returned home I received a letter from him. At the end of this letter he wrote a short poem. I want to read an excerpt for you:
If I write about my grief, it is higher than the mountains
A longing inside even above these mountains
When I was free, and successful, people were applauding me
I received a letters from loved ones
Now I do not know where they are, those who had once loved me
I was respected, loved, caressed…
When it came to the grief
Many have turned away from me
But separation (parting) has given me strength
And given me confidence
Do not be discouraged Azam Farmon
Good times still await you…