HRW demands release of Uzbek prisoner 

HRW demands release of Uzbek prisoner 

President Islam Karimov with fellow strongman Vladimir Putin. Source: Kremlin

Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists, has been put in solitary confinement in Uzbekistan, NGOs claim

Meanwhile, a Dutch-Turkish man has been sentenced to over seven years in prison in Washington DC for sending financial backing to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a US-designated foreign terror organisation.

The Washington DC Attorney’s Office said Irfan Demirtas, 58, pleaded guilty in September.

There is less transparency about Bekjanov’s incarceration.

The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights said Bekjanov, 62, who has been in prison for 17 years, could have his prison term extendedm again. His poor health could decline in solitary confinement, the groups claim.

“Muhammad Bekjanov’s solitary confinement is an ominous sign that causes us to fear that his health could deteriorate and that his sentence could be extended again,” said Nadejda Atayeva of the AHRCA. “The international community must do everything in its power to save him.”

The former editor of what was the leading Uzbek opposition newspaper, Bekjanov was jailed in 1999.

Bekjanov, who has a wife and three children, was given an extra sentence of four years and eight months in February 2012, days before he was due to be freed.

“The Uzbek authorities have already stolen Muhammad Bekjanov’s health and 17 years of his life,” said Johann Bihr of RSF. “How much more time will they continue to persecute this journalist, whose only crime was to have done his job in an honest and courageous manner?”

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov addressed sensitive subjects like the economy, the use of forced labour in the Uzbek cotton harvest and the shrinking, polluted Aral Sea. His brother, the poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Islam Karimov in the December 1991 election.

After several bombings in Tashkent in 1999, Karimov jailed several critics. Yusuf Ruzimuradov, an Erk colleague who was jailed at the same time as Bekjanov, is also still in prison.

Bekjanov has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment and untreated tuberculosis.

He suffers from inguinal hernia after being forced to make bricks. He has refused an operation in prison, which are normally carried out without anaesthetic and proper sterilisation.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. At least nine other journalists are currently jailed.

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