Uzbek Jew accused of murder said to be seriously ill

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NEW YORK — A 23-year-old Tashkent Jew, imprisoned in April after confessing to the murder of a criminal in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, has been found incompetent to stand trial and ordered to a psychiatric hospital there.

Now attorneys for Dimitrii Fattakhov, who had reportedly been brutally beaten while in jail, say their client is deteriorating not only mentally, but physically.

He was transferred to a hospital prison ward in early January.

Helene Kenvin, the family's attorney in the United States, said she spoke last week with Fattakhov's mother, who "was told by a doctor at the hospital that he has pneumonia."

The Union of Councils, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for Jews in the former Soviet Union, said Fattakhov would die if he is not released. maintain that the confession was obtained under duress and that their client is innocent.

"We are concerned that he will not leave that place alive if something is not done soon," said Micah Naftalin, Union of Councils national director.

"He must be allowed immediately to go to Israel, with his mother, for treatment."

Fattakhov and his two co-workers, Aleksei Smirnov and Oleg Gusev, were arrested in April for the killing of Pulat Khamdamov — a convicted gambler, embezzler and neighborhood drunk — in the mall where they worked.

The three young men confessed under brutal torture, Naftalin said. Smirnov was released in the summer for lack of evidence. Gusev, who was imprisoned for helping to dispose of the body, was released in December. Six eyewitnesses said he was on the other side of town during the alleged murder.

Both men have since recanted their confessions and detailed the torture that they and Fattakhov underwent.

"Dimitrii, while being tortured, was put in a crucifixion position, beaten into unconsciousness and left like that over a two-day period," Kenvin said.

The trial was suspended last month after Fattakhov was found incompetent to stand trial, suffering from "situational psychosis."

Kenvin said he did not recognize his mother and his lawyer.

The judge ordered him transferred to a state psychiatric hospital, but at the beginning of January, he was sent instead to the prison ward at a regular hospital with a police officer standing outside the door. His mother was prevented from visiting him.

"We have no smoking gun that it was anti-Semitic. His passport says that he's Tartar," Naftalin said. "But it raises questions when only the Jew is kept, and it is clear that there is no evidence against him."

Kenvin said that if this case had come to light in the United States, it would have been thrown out immediately.

"There is no forensic evidence that the crime occurred at the mall," she said. "There's no murder weapon, no hair, no blood, no flesh, no fingerprints."

The American, German and Israeli embassies are appealing for Fattakhov's release, Naftalin said. Canada and Australia have also made inquiries. Members of Congress have also voiced opposition to Fattakhov's violated human rights, as has the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal.

Fattakhov is the second Jew this year to face what may be false murder charges.

A 76-year-old Bukharan Jew in Tashkent was imprisoned for the murder of a 17-year-old tenant in his building.

Iosef Koenov was released from jail in February after serving almost five months. The case was officially closed after about 25,000 letters were sent to the Uzbek ambassador in Washington and to the prosecutor in Tashkent.