Why has Uzbekistan jailed a man who attempted suicide?

After jumping in front of a train, Kadyr Yusupov, who suffers from mental illness, said he was spying for the West.

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    Observers say Kadyr Yusupov's conviction raises human rights concerns [Photo courtesy of Babur Yusupov/Al Jazeera]
    Observers say Kadyr Yusupov's conviction raises human rights concerns [Photo courtesy of Babur Yusupov/Al Jazeera]

    Tashkent, Uzbekistan - On December 3, 2018, a man in his 60s wearing a dark blue coat and jeans walked onto the platform of Pushkinskaya metro station in Tashkent.

    It was a cold morning in Uzbekistan's capital.

    As the train approached, the man jumped on the tracks. The train hit him and he fell beneath the rails. Onlookers dragged him out onto the platform.

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    In a state that his family later described as a psychotic episode, the man claimed that since 2015 he had been spying for the West in return for $1,000 a month.

    One year after his suicide attempt, on January 9, Kadyr Yusupov, 68, a retired career diplomat, was charged with five and a half years' imprisonment for treason.

    The prosecutor had asked for eight years.

    "In determining the measure of punishment for the defendant, the decision was also based on the principles of humanism and justice enshrined in the Constitution and criminal code of the Republic of Uzbekistan," reads a message from the court's press service.

    Foreign service and undiagnosed mental illness

    Kadyr Yusupov had served his country since Soviet times, first in the embassy in Sudan and then in Austria, in the United Kingdom, and as the head of the mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

    In 2009, he retired from the diplomatic service and began to work as an adviser to various NGOs promoting business standards in Uzbekistan.

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    Since his departure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yusupov has had no access to state secrets.

    But Yusupov has had a history of mental illness.

    While he has never been properly diagnosed, over the years, he has periodically experienced psychotic episodes.

    In 2011, he tried to commit suicide.

    "Ninety-five percent of the time he is okay, but if a cocktail of factors – from heart issues to chronic insomnia and stress – prevail, he falls into bouts of hypomania, delusions and hallucinations. These psychotic episodes could last several weeks, during which he would be outwardly functional," Babur Yusupov, Kadyr's son, told Al Jazeera.

    "One of the symptoms of this unstable behaviour is delusions of grandeur in that he would often exaggerate his role in society. The other is memory confusion: events that happened 10 years ago would replay in his head as if they happened today."

    According to his family, when he turned 60, Yusupov began to meditate, practice yoga and take regular medication.

    He separated from his wife in 2017, and his mental state was deteriorating.

    No one from his family and friends saw the episode on December 3 coming.

    On that day, he sent a message to his children saying he loved them, but that he was tired and had to bid them farewell.

    Scant evidence

    Until the end of the trial, the only evidence of Yusupov's crime was his own story.

    During his first weeks in prison, Yusupov was denied access to medication. Until April, his family lawyer was denied access to him, as Yusupov allegedly refused the attorney's legal representation. When the access was granted, Yusupov denied that he had ever been a spy.

    While in detention, Yusupov was allegedly subject to psychological torture. 

    "They threatened to put him in jail until the end of his days. The torture was conducted from December until the beginning of April. Just before we finally got access back. It was held repeatedly," Temur Yusupov, another one Kadyr's sons, says. "They said they would rape his daughter and wife and put us all in prison." 

    Security services also threatened Yusupov's sons, saying they should stop talking to the media.

    The court heard that Kadyr Yusupov was sane.

    The prosecutor also denied allegations of torture.

    In November, the United Nations Committee Against Torture mentioned the case four times in their final country report for Uzbekistan.

    By the time of publication, Al Jazeera's request for comment from the Ombudsman of Uzbekistan had not been answered.

    'The courts are not independent'

    Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, Uzbekistan has been on a reform path. After years of isolation and oppression, the country has begun to open up politically and economically.

    Many "political prisoners" were freed after the president's election, and the reform of the justice system was about to begin.

    But according to a local lawyer, who requested anonymity, change has never come.

    "The courts are not independent. They listen to the defence but not to the facts. Examples of acquittal are few and the opinion of courts is rarely different from the prosecution," the lawyer said.

    "This is because the security services have to show the authorities that they are needed. Tomorrow someone can ask what their purpose is, maybe their staff will be reduced, the financing cut. They have to show they are effective."

    Uzbekistan reform: Activists demand more changes

    The trial and verdict in Yusupov's case have alarmed the international human rights community.

    "Yusupov's conviction to a lengthy prison term following a closed, flawed trial and a lack of access to counsel leave a gaping hole in Uzbekistan's reform narrative and are a sign that the old methods of the security services are still alive and well," said Steve Swerdlow, a human rights lawyer and Central Asia expert.

    "We believe that our father is innocent," Temur Yusupov said. "We will continue to fight for his justice, we will appeal and continue to raise media awareness of the case to show that the government hasn't fulfilled its obligations, especially those of the United Nations' Committee Against Torture."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News