The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is extremely concerned about the conviction, imprisonment, and torture of journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov. The Tashkent City Court is planning to hear an appeal in the case on September 23, and we call on you to see that he is released immediately.
Police arrested Sharipov, 25, on May 26 in the capital, 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 (www.uiju.org) 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 plead guilty to sodomy, waived his right to legal counsel, and expressed his readiness to apologize for criticizing Your Excellency 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. (While homosexuality remains a criminal offense and gays face regular police harassment in Uzbekistan, prosecution of such cases is rare.)
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 (www.cjes.ru) on September 9. A member of Sharipov’s family confirmed to CPJ that the statement is authentic.
In the statement, Sharipov wrote, “I was tortured and pressured in ways I cannot describe with the aim of forcing me to confess and plead guilty at the trial for a crime I hadn’t committed.” He continued, “They put a gas mask on my head and sprayed an unknown substance into my throat. …After that I could hardly breath, they injected an unknown substance into my veins and said they will inject me with the AIDs virus if I did not follow their instructions.” Sharipov also wrote that before he pled guilty at his trial, he was forced to write a “death note” declaring he had “committed suicide of my own volition.”
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.
Given Sharipov’s statement and the U.N.’s allegations that torture is commonplace in Uzbekistan, CPJ believes that Sharipov’s confession should be dismissed, along with the three guilty charges and the prison sentence. We call on you to do everything within your power to see that Ruslan Sharipov is released immediately from custody, to arrange for an independent and impartial review of the charges and evidence against him in a safe setting, and to punish those authorities who are responsible for the torture of this journalist.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper