Uzbek editor sentenced to jail while still in prison

New York, January 25, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by the politically motivated additional sentence handed to Muhammad Bekjanov, the jailed editor of now-defunct opposition newspaper Erk, who has been in prison in Uzbekistan since 1999 on trumped-up charges.

On Tuesday, just days before Bekjanov was due to be released, a district court in the city of Kasan sentenced him to an additional five-year term after charging him with breaking unspecified prison rules. Bekjanov denied the charges and planned to appeal, news reports said. The journalist was imprisoned in 1999 in a strict-regime penal colony in Kasan on charges that included distributing and publishing Erk, a banned newspaper, news reports said.

Bekjanov is one of two journalists who have been jailed longer than any other reporter worldwide, according to CPJ research. The other is Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Bekjanov’s colleague at Erk, who was given a 15-year prison term in 1999.

Both journalists were tortured before their 1999 trial began and were jailed in high-security penal colonies for individuals convicted of serious crimes, CPJ research shows. In a 2003 interview at a prison hospital where he was being treated for tuberculosis, Bekjanov described being beaten and tortured while in prison. He suffered a broken leg and hearing loss as a result, international news reports said.

“This is a blatantly politicized new prison term levied against Muhammad Bekjanov, who should not have served even a single day in prison,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We are appalled by reports of Bekjanov’s torture and demand that authorities bring to justice those responsible for his abuse in custody and also release him without delay.”

At a January 18 hearing held at the penal colony, Bekjanov’s three cell mates testified against him, accusing the journalist of violating a prison order after he argued with them, news reports said. However, Uznews reported that the inmates appeared nervous in the courtroom, which led the journalist’s lawyer to believe they had been forced to testify against him.

“The authoritarian government of Islam Karimov holds the disgraceful record of one of the top journalist jailers in Eurasia,” Ognianova said. “If Uzbekistan is to rejoin the international community, authorities must release all the journalists they are currently holding in retaliation for their work.”

In 2006, Bekjanov’s wife, Nina Bekjanova, visited him in prison, and told independent news website Uznews that the journalist had lost most of his teeth due to repeated beatings in custody. Exiled Uzbek journalists and local human rights workers told CPJ they had been unable to obtain information about his condition since. CPJ has also been unable to obtain information from Uzbek authorities on the journalist’s condition.