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In message from Uzbek jail, journalist hints of abuse

News is rare from Uzbek prisons, where authorities are holding at least four independent reporters in retaliation for critical journalism: Muhammad Bekjanov, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Dilmurod Saiid, and Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov. All four are serving lengthy sentences. Uzbek authorities refuse even to update CPJ or other human rights organizations on the journalists' whereabouts, status, or well-being.

When news does come, it's unlikely to be happy, albeit confirmation that one of the journalists is probably alive.

Last week, news reports brought word from Saiid, who is serving his 12.5-year term on fabricated extortion charges in a high-security prison colony in central Uzbekistan. Prior to his arrest, Saiid had reported on official abuses against farmers for the independent regional news website Voice of Freedom as well as for a number of local publications.

In a January handwritten note that he passed, via his visiting brother, to a local rights activist, Abdurakhmon Tashanov, Saiid revealed some details of his conditions in jail and pleaded for help.

According to the independent news website Uznews and the BBC Uzbek service, Saiid made reference to what international human rights groups as well as U.N. agencies have long alleged: Uzbek detainees are abused, tortured, subject to forced psychiatric treatment.

Saiid did not explicitly detail violations he had suffered, but used his past experience in human rights advocacy to identify by number articles of the Uzbek constitution and the criminal code, as well as a "December 1984 convention," that were being violated in prison. The former two pieces of legislation focus on personal rights and freedoms, including the right not to be tortured or forcefully hospitalized, CPJ research shows. A short online search for the latter turns up the U.N. convention against torture which was adopted the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, 1984. Uzbekistan acceded to the Convention in September 1995.

According to Uznews, prison authorities have confiscated essays that the journalist wrote while in his cell, as well as the letters that he tried to send outside the prison. "These days, when it is forbidden to maintain contact with those alive, as well as keep memoirs of those who had passed away, the mere fact of existing on earth seems to be fantastic to me," Saiid, said according to Uznews. Saiid's wife and daughter died in a November 2009 car accident when traveling to visit him in jail.

Tashanov told Uznews that he asked the Main Directorate on Execution of the Sentences, the top prison authority, to investigate Saiid's claims of abuse. CPJ has long advocated for Saiid's release. Based on findings by CPJ and other groups, lawyers with Washington-based advocacy group Freedom Now filed a March 2012 complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Council, contesting Saiid's imprisonment.

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