Uzbekistan should free editor to receive medical care

New York, April 2, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ongoing imprisonment of independent Uzbek editor Muhammad Bekjanov, whose health has severely deteriorated in jail, and urges authorities to immediately release him so that he may receive medical care. Bekjanov and a colleague, both of whom were jailed in 1999, have been in prison for longer than any other journalists worldwide, according to CPJ research.

Bekjanov, editor of the now-defunct opposition paper Erk, was jailed on fabricated anti-state charges and handed a 14-year sentence, according to news reports. In January 2012, days before he was due to be released, an Uzbek court handed him another five-year prison term on charges of breaking unspecified prison rules. He is being held at a prison in the central Navoi region of the country, news reports said.

Nina Bekjanova, the journalist’s wife, told reporters that she saw that his health had deteriorated when she visited him in jail in March. She said he needed immediate treatment for a hernia and a relapse of tuberculosis, according to Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Bekjanova said the editor had not complained about his health to her during her previous visits, but that when she visited him last month, he had said, “There’s not much longer left [for me] to suffer.”

“Uzbekistan must ensure that Muhammad Bekjanov is provided with all the necessary medical treatment without any further delay,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program research associate. “We urge Uzbek authorities to release Bekjanov immediately so that he can get the care that he needs.”

Bekjanov and his colleague at Erk, journalist Yusuf Ruzimuradov, were first detained in Ukraine, where they lived in exile and published their paper. The two journalists were extradited at the request of Uzbek authorities and, six months later, were convicted on charges of publishing and distributing a banned newspaper, participating in a banned political protest, and attempting to overthrow the regime. Ruzimuradov was given 15 years in jail.

Uzbekistan was holding at least four journalists in jail when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. In 2008, Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, and the next year, Dilmurod Saiid was given 12 and a half years in jail, both on fabricated charges, according to CPJ research.

  • For more data and analysis on Uzbekistan, visit CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.