Accused Uzbeki set for freedom in Israel

NEW YORK — A Tashkent Jew, imprisoned for some 10 months for a murder he said he did not commit, was to be freed this week by the Uzbekistan government.

Dimitrii Fattakhov, 24, was expected to leave the country on Thursday, along with his mother Frieda, to receive medical treatment in Israel.

"We are very appreciative of this humanitarian gesture by the Uzbek government," said Helene Kenvin, the family's U.S. lawyer.

Among groups that campaigned for Fattakhov's freedom was the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, whose executive director, Simon Klarfeld, hailed news of his release.

"At a time when the world has turned a blind eye toward the republics of the former Soviet Union, the need for continued vigilance and monitoring of human rights of national minorities, and Jews in particular, is vital," Klarfeld said.

U.S., British and German diplomats visited Fattakhov Feb. 1, the first people to see him since his trial, said Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for former Soviet Jews.

The delegation reported finding Fattakhov "weak, wizened and disoriented, recuperating from pneumonia and severe weight loss."

The Bay Area Council said he did not recognize his mother in one visit.

Fattakhov was jailed after he and two co-workers confessed last April to the murder of a local criminal in Uzbekistan, but the confession was obtained under duress, Kenvin said.

The two co-workers were later released. Fattakhov, however, was kept in jail even though no physical evidence linked him to the murder scene, Kenvin said.

He was beaten and tortured in prison, and his mental and physical health deteriorated to the point where he was deemed incompetent to stand trial, she added.

In December, the trial judge ordered that Fattakhov be transferred to a psychiatric hospital, but he was sent to a prison hospital where he caught pneumonia.

The decision to release Fattakhov, made by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, comes after months of campaigning by several Jewish organizations and the American, German and British embassies.

"This campaign without question saved his life," Naftalin said.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudath Israel of America, said Fattakhov's release reflected the work of groups on his behalf and "the good judgment of the top leaders of Uzbekistan who understood how damaging this case was becoming" to their nation's image.

Klarfeld, meanwhile, expressed hope that a "thorough investigation will uncover and bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrible torturing of an innocent victim."