Court rejects imprisoned journalist’s appeal

New York, September 26, 2003—At a closed hearing yesterday, the City Court in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, rejected an appeal by jailed journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov to have his conviction and prison sentence overturned, according to local and international press reports.

Instead, the court dropped one of the three charges against Sharipov and reduced his prison sentence from five and a half years to four years.

A member of Sharipov’s family told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Sharipov arrived at yesterday’s court hearing with serious injuries to his eye and broken glasses, and that the police claimed the injuries were from a car accident.

Surat Ikramov, a human rights activist on Sharipov’s defense team, said that Sharipov was planning to appeal the case to a higher court, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

“We call on President Islam Karimov to release Ruslan Sharipov from custody immediately and to arrange for an independent and impartial review of the charges and evidence against him in a safe setting,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “President Karimov must also ensure that prosecutors aggressively investigate credible allegations that Ruslan is being tortured by the police.”

Police arrested Sharipov, 25, on May 26 in Tashkent and charged him with sodomy, having sexual relations with minors, and managing prostitutes, according to local and international press reports.

Police and the security service have threatened and harassed Sharipov for several years because of critical articles he has written for the Russian news agency Prima and for the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan’s Web site (http:// describing police abuses and press freedom violations.

Many of Sharipov’s articles were published on the Internet in English, making them far more accessible to an international audience than articles written by other Uzbek journalists and human rights activists.

Sharipov’s trial, which started on July 23, was held behind closed doors at the Mirzo-Ulugbek district court in Tashkent. Judge Ganisher Makhmudov ruled that the trial would be closed to the public to protect the privacy of minors who were allegedly victims in the case, AP reported. Human rights advocates, however, believe the trial was closed to prevent public scrutiny of the case.

On August 8, the trial took a bizarre turn when Sharipov, who is openly gay, reportedly pled guilty to sodomy, waived his right to legal counsel, and expressed his readiness to apologize for criticizing President Islam Karimov and other Uzbek authorities in his articles, according to a member of Sharipov’s defense team.

On August 13, the Mirzo-Ulugbek district court found Sharipov guilty of all three charges and sentenced him to five and a half years in prison.

Although homosexuality is a criminal offense in Uzbekistan and gays face regular police harassment, prosecution of such cases is rare. As a result, local journalists and human rights activists suspect the charges against Sharipov are an effort to silence his criticism of authorities.

On September 5, Sharipov issued a statement from prison reporting that he pled guilty to sodomy in his August trial because authorities had tortured him into confessing. His statement, which was addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was posted on the Web site of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations ( on September 9. A member of Sharipov’s family confirmed to CPJ that the statement is authentic.

A U.N. special rapporteur on torture who visited Uzbekistan in December 2002 described police abuse of prisoners as “systematic.” International human rights organizations report that Uzbek authorities commonly use fabricated criminal charges to silence government critics.