New York, October 10, 2008--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today's politicized imprisonment of independent journalist Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
A district court in Uzbekistan's autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan gave Abdurakhmanov a 10-year term on fabricated charges of drug possession with intent to sell, according to local news reports and CPJ sources.
Prosecutors had requested a 17-year prison sentence, Rustam Tulyaganov, Abdurakhmanov's defense lawyer, told CPJ. Tulyaganov said he will appeal the verdict in a higher court.
"We are appalled by this shameful verdict and call on the Uzbek courts to exercise their independence and acquit Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov on appeal," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Abdurakhmanov's politicized imprisonment is one more stain on Uzbekistan's deplorable press freedom record."
Abdurakhmanov, 58, covered economic, human rights, and social issues for the independent news Web site Uznews, and in the past contributed reporting for the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. On Thursday, CPJ called on Nukus District Court Judge Kadyrbay Dzhamolov, who began hearings in Abdurakhmanov's case last month, to drop the bogus charges drug charges and acquit the journalist.
Authorities in Nukus arrested Abdurakhmanov on June 7 after traffic police who stopped his car for an ID check claimed to find 4 ounces (114 grams) of marijuana and less than a quarter ounce (5 grams) of opium in his trunk, Uznews reported. Authorities charged the journalist with possession of drugs intended for personal use. Abdurakhmanov protested, saying police had planted the drugs as a means to silence his critical reporting--in one of his last pieces for Uznews the journalist covered corruption in traffic police. In August, investigators acknowledged that the journalist's blood tests found no traces of drugs. They then increased the charge to drug possession with the intent to sell, according to Uznews.
Galima Bukharbayeva, editor of Uznews and a 2005 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, said that Abdurakhmanov's imprisonment shows the vicious nature of the Uzbek regime. Today's court verdict comes only days after a two-day media freedom conference ended in Tashkent. Authorities excluded independent journalists from participation and said discussions would be summarized in a press release at the end, RFE/RL reported.
Abdurakhmanov's imprisonment casts a dark shadow as the European Union prepares to review, on October 13, currently lifted sanctions that had been imposed after Uzbek government troops killed hundreds of protesters in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005. International groups have called on the EU to reinstall the sanctions if Uzbekistan does not improve on its human rights record. In April, the EU External Relations Council urged Uzbek authorities to "take steps to guarantee freedom of expression and to allow further liberalization of mass media" in the country.
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information visit www.cpj.org.