Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Voices of Families of the Executed - Part 5

Here is the final installment in our series of excerpts from the MVFHR panel of families of the executed at the Third International Women's Peace Conference in Dallas this past July. See the original post announcing this series, the current issue of our newsletter with more about the peace conference panel, and MVFHR's report about families of the executed.

Remarks from Tamara Chikunova:

I am the mother of a son who was arrested and sentenced to death [in Uzbekistan] against all justice and human rights. My son was tortured, but he refused to sign a confession saying he killed somebody, because he had not. When the police then arrested me and started to torture me, my son heard this and said, “All right, I’ll sign whatever you want, but please don’t hurt my mother.” In this way, my son signed his own death warrant, to save my life.

The trial lasted six months and in all that time I had no chance to see him. Afterward, I learned that during those six months he had been tortured in all kinds of cruel ways, from gas to electric shock.

The lawyer that I had hired for my son was denied access to the court. Instead, my son was given a court-appointed lawyer, but she actually acted against him: she brought evidence from the prosecution against him. At the beginning of the trial, my son stood up and said that he is not guilty and that he signed the confession only because he was tortured and believed he was doing it to save his mother’s life. The judge said, “People like you should be killed right here in the courtroom.”

The trial lasted only three days, and on November 11, 1999 my son was sentenced to death. Seven months later, on July 10, 2000, I was allowed to visit him. I arrived at Tashkent prison but I was told there were no visits allowed. Shortly before this I had received a letter from my son in which he wrote that he missed me very much and looked forward to the visit on July 10.

That day, July 10, he did leave his cell, but not for a visit with me; instead, it was for a visit with death. He was shot in the head that morning. It is incredibly cruel when a mother stands behind the prison’s wall and her son is waiting for her visit. We could have had even just ten minutes, but no, that was not allowed; the law in Uzbekistan does not require that families be given a last visit, and families are not told about the execution date ahead of time. The body is not released to the relatives to be buried, and the place of burial is a state secret. After seven years, I still do not know where my only child is buried.

After the execution, I didn’t want to live, because my son was all my life. I received a letter that he had written to me:

“My dear mother, If it is not our fate to see each other again, remember that I am innocent. I have not spilled blood! I would rather die than let anyone hurt you. I love you very much, you are the only person dear to me. Please remember me. I send you a kiss. Your son, Dmitri”

My son wrote to me please remember me, and for his memory I established my organization, Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, that fights for life and against the death penalty in Uzbekistan and in the world. Our work has led to the overturning of 22 death sentences.

Our work is very difficult, but it’s not fruitless. This year, on June 29, official legislation was passed saying that on January 1, 2008 the death penalty in Uzbekistan will be abolished.

This is a great victory, but we still have work to do. There are still hundreds of people in Uzbekistan who don’t know when their children were executed or where they are buried. Five months ago, a UN resolution was issued saying that there were several human rights violations in my son’s case and demanding that reparation be paid to my family and that such violations cease in the future. The Uzbekistan government has not responded to the resolution. What’s the price for human life? What’s the reparation if my only child was killed? I asked the UN not to give me the reparation but to give me my son’s body so I can bury him myself.

Thanks to Elena Misheneva and Natalia Glebova for translating these remarks from the Russian. Read more about Tamara Chikunova and her work here, here, and here.

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