Uzbek journalist detained in Ukraine at risk of extradition

Boryspil airport in Kiev in June 2017. An Uzbek journalist living in exile, who was detained at a Kiev airport on September 20, could face extradition. (AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

New York, September 27, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Ukrainian authorities to release Uzbek journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov. The journalist could face extradition to Uzbekistan, his lawyer, Aleksei Fyodorov, said.

A Kiev court today approved a 40-day detention period for Okhunjonov, who has been living in exile since 2013, Fyodorov told CPJ. Authorities detained Okhunjonov under an international arrest warrant on September 20, when he arrived in Ukraine with his family from Turkey to seek political asylum, according to Oksana Romaniuk, director of the Kiev-based Institute of Mass Information.

Okhunjonov was detained after authorities noted that his name was on an Interpol list, Romaniuk said. Uzbekistan filed the international warrant for Okhunjonov on a fraud charge. The journalist, who left Uzbekistan to avoid politically motivated persecution for his reporting, denies the charge, Fyodorov said. The lawyer said that he has filed an appeal.

“We call on the Ukrainian government to free Narzullo Okhunjonov, allow him to remain in Ukraine, and reject any requests to extradite him,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Okhunjonov is at serious risk of being imprisoned for his work in Uzbekistan, where journalists face prosecution for their critical reporting.”

Okhunjonov writes critically, in Uzbek and Russian, from exile for sites including BBC Uzbek about Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government, particularly the late President Islam Karimov, Fyodorov told CPJ. Before he fled for Turkey in 2013, Okhunjonov headed a unit covering politics and education at the radio section of Uzbekistan’s state-run UzMTRK, Fyodorov said. Because of Turkey’s deteriorating press freedom environment amid the failed coup attempt last year, Okhunjonov decided to leave the country, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

In numerous interviews for regional and international media, Okhunjonov has criticized Uzbek authorities for corruption and human rights abuses. In his memoirs, published from exile, Okhunjonov said his troubles began after a February 2012 interview with the BBC, in which he criticized a government official who went on to become prime minister. A complaint against the journalist was filed in Uzbekistan in 2013 after he published criticism of the late president, Fyodorov said.