New York, October 5, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the Uzbek authorities to immediately release journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who went missing on September 27 and has since been secretly tried in a criminal court in Tashkent, the capital.
Abdullaev faces criminal charges of "attacking the constitutional order" of Uzbekistan and is in the custody of Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB), according to the independent regional news agency Fergana. Fergana reported on October 3 that Abdullaev faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Citing Tashkent-based human rights defender Surat Ikramov, Fergana said it is unclear why the chargers were brought against Abdullaev.
"Bobomurod Abdullaev's disappearance and the charges against him are extremely disturbing. If authorities believed the journalist had committed some crime other than voicing his dissent, they would have no reason to hide his trial behind closed doors," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on the Uzbek government to immediately release Bobomurod Abdullaev, drop the charges against him, and stop its ruthless anti-press campaign."
Abdullaev worked for years as a freelance journalist, contributing to the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, locally known as Ozodlik, as well as the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting. He also founded an independent news website, Ozod Ovoz (Free Voice), which Uzbek authorities shut down following the May 2005 crackdown on antigovernment protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.
Abdullaev was one of few independent journalists who did not flee Uzbekistan following the Andijan events, and continued to openly criticize the Uzbek government in YouTube videos, his interviews with Ozodlik, and other media outlets.
Last week his wife, Katya Balkhiboyeva, told media outlets that her husband at noon on September 27 left their house in Tashkent to take his car to a local repair shop and never returned.
Balkhiboyeva filed a missing person report with local police on September 29. A few hours after she filed the missing person report, police raided the journalist's apartment, Abdullaev's wife told the BBC Uzbek service.
During the BBC interview, which took place as police were raiding the apartment, Balkhiboyeva said police refused to inform her about her husband's whereabouts or any charges against him.
According to Fergana, Abdullaev's relatives have yet to receive an official notice about the arrest of and charges against the journalist.
Nadezhda Atayeva, who heads the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia from exile in France, wrote on her Facebook page that Abdullaev complained about being followed before his September 27 disappearance.
On September 27, the same day Abdullaev was first detained, Uzbek authorities also detained dissident writer Nurullo Otakhonov at the Tashkent airport upon his return from self-imposed exile in Turkey, and charged the writer with anti-state activities.