CPJ calls for release of jailed reporters in Central Asia

World leaders must hold Central Asian regimes responsible for denying global access to information by throwing critical reporters behind bars, CPJ Eurasia researcher Muzaffar Suleymanov told the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe  at a briefing Tuesday on political prisoners in Central Asia.

Speaking before the agency, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Suleymanov highlighted the cases of journalists imprisoned in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Among those imprisoned in Uzbekistan are Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov of the opposition newspaper Erk, who have been in jail longer than any other journalist worldwide. Authorities jailed both reporters in 1999 on fabricated anti-state charges, and handed another five-year prison term to Bekjanov earlier this year, just days before his expected release.

Independent journalist Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov was sent to prison for 10 years in 2008, just as Uzbek government officials were successfully persuading the European Union to recognize their  commitment to human rights by lifting sanctions. Dilmurod Saiid, a reporter from Tashkent, was sentenced to 12 and one-half years in jail in 2009, even though prosecution witnesses told the court they were forced to give statements.

In Kyrgyzstan, which did not appear on CPJ’s annual prison census for a decade, journalist Azimjon Askarov is serving a life sentence handed to him in September 2010. Askarov’s investigative reporting on fabricated criminal cases, and on detainees’ rape, torture, and killing while in custody, ended the careers of several regional prosecutors and police officers. He was jailed amid then-ravaging ethnic conflict on a set of charges based on the thinnest evidence–accusations by local police and a mayor who had long threatened to silence Askarov in retaliation for his work.    

Reflecting on President Barack Obama’s statement on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Suleymanov urged the commission and U.S. government officials to secure the journalists’ release. His full testimony can be read here.