A journalist released, but struggling

New York, August 4, 2004—Uzbek authorities have released Madzid Abduraimov, a journalist with the national weekly Yangi Asr, who was imprisoned for three years after criticizing authorities in the southern Surkhandarya region. Abduraimov said he is struggling now to reclaim his home and other personal belongings that were confiscated by authorities.

“Being in prison was like death,” Abduraimov told CPJ today. Citing poor hygienic and nutritional care, he said “the conditions for political and religious prisoners are much worse than for common criminals.”

Abduraimov, who had been sentenced to a 13-year term, said he was included in a December 2, 2003, presidential amnesty. Although he was released on April 20, the news has not been widely reported. CPJ, which learned of his release from local sources, interviewed him by telephone today.

At least three other journalists are still serving prison sentences in Uzbekistan after being convicted in politicized courts for criticizing government policies or expressing opinions that differ from state policy.

“Uzbekistan remains the leading jailer of journalists in the Europe and Central Asia region,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “President Islam Karimov must end Uzbekistan’s state policy of silencing journalists by sending them to prison.”

Initially held in a penal colony in the southern Kashkandariya region, Abduraimov was transferred to a stricter penal colony in the western Navainsky region in November 2002 after he protested his conviction.

Abduraimov, from the southern town of Baisun, said he is living in difficult conditions now while he tries to recover personal property—his home, clothes, personal archive, college diploma and car parts—confiscated as part of his conviction

Abduraimov, a correspondent with the national weekly Yangi Asr, was arrested in March 2001 and convicted of extortion.

Abduraimov had accused Nusrat Radzhabov, head of the Boysunsky District grain production company Zagotzerno, of misconduct and other charges in a January 15, 2001, article in Yangi Asr.

Radzhabov claimed that Abduraimov asked him for money and threatened to publish more accusations unless he was paid. According to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Radzhabov tried to sue Abduraimov, but dropped the suit after a local prosecutor’s investigation confirmed the facts in the article.

Authorities arrested Abduraimov and accused him of receiving a US$6,000 bribe. He and a witness quoted by the IWPR claimed that a man threw the money into the back seat of his car immediately before police stopped his vehicle, searched it, and arrested him.

Abduraimov was held in Termez Regional Police Department jail until his trial began in Termez City Court on July 4, 2001.

According to Abduraimov, the court proceedings were influenced by local officials who objected to his reporting on oil industry corruption. His request for a change of venue was not granted. He refused to attend the hearings and was sentenced in absentia.

Three other Uzbek journalists are still serving prison sentences:

• Mukhammad Bekdzhanov, editor of Erk, a newspaper published by the banned opposition Erk party; and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, an Erk employee, were sentenced to 14 years and 15 years in prison respectively in August 1999 for distributing Erk and criticizing the government.

• Gayrat Mehliboyev, a freelance journalist who wrote occasionally for the Tashkent newspaper Hurriyyat, was sentenced to seven years in prison in February 2003 for writing a political commentary about Islam and allegedly sympathizing with a banned Islamic opposition party.