12/10/2004, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN – HUMAN RIGHTS
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Life is God's gift, says Orthodox Christian woman fighting the death penalty

Tashkent (AsiaNews) - "The death penalty creates evil and violates the most important and inalienable human right: the right to life", this according to Tamara Chikunova, an Uzbek Orthodox Christian, founder of 'Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture', an association working for the abolition of the death penalty in Uzbekistan.

Her only son, 29-year-old Dimitrij, was executed by a firing squad on July 20, 2000. Since then she has been working on behalf of inmates and prisoners on death row who claim to have been wrongfully convicted. In four years, she has been able to save 19 'children of God' as she likes to call them.

"I am a believer," Tamara says. "I am an Orthodox Christian and I help those who are on death row because life is God's most important gift to us. The state has no right to decide who lies and who dies; only God can."

In her attempts to free her son Dimitrij, she received threats from the authorities. "My son gave his life to save mine. He confessed to the murder he was charged with to prevent them from killing me," she said. "For this reason, I help other young people to keep Dimitrij's memory alive".

'Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture' has about a hundred members and volunteers from all over Uzbekistan. The association has a close relationship with international organisations like the Community of Sant'Egidio and Amnesty International.

"We have been fighting for the past four years to get a moratorium on all executions," Tamara said. "On December 2 past, for the first time, the president of Uzbekistan expressed his support for the abolition of the death penalty and an end to executions". According to her, the president's statement is the result of international pressure that her association was able to solicit.

The situation of death row inmates in Uzbekistan is terrible. "Relatives can't visit prisoners who live in cells waiting for the time of their execution. Since time and date are kept secret neither they nor their relatives know when it is going to happen", she said. "Once prisoners are executed their bodies are not returned to their families. And the location of their burial is kept secret—which is in and of itself a form of torture for both prisoners and families—so that relatives do not launch any inquiry about possible torture in prison."

Tamara knows this all too well. On what became her last visit to her son she was talking to the guards when she hears shots fired . . . shots fired at her son. Still, her son's death has become a motive for her and others to act and hope. (PF)

 

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