New York, March 2, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today confirmed that Yusuf Ruzimuradov, the longest-imprisoned journalist worldwide, was freed in Uzbekistan in late February. CPJ called on authorities to take further steps to improve the climate for the media by dropping charges against two independent journalists who are due in court in a separate case on March 5.
Ruzimuradov, a former reporter for the opposition newspaper Erk, was quietly released on February 22 and has been reunited with his family, a relative of the journalist told CPJ today. He has not yet made any public statements, according to press reports. The journalist served 19 years in prison on anti-state charges, with his sentence prolonged at least twice after he had served his initial 15-year term, according to CPJ research. The independent news website Fergana, which cited the local human rights organization Ezgulik, reported that Ruzimuradov was released with unspecified restrictions.
In a separate case, the trial of independent journalists Bobomurod Abdullaev and Hayot Nasriddinov is due to start in Tashkent next week, according to members of Abdullaev's family with whom CPJ spoke. The journalists, who are charged with "conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime," face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
"Today, we can breathe a sigh of relief that Yusuf Ruzimuradov--the longest imprisoned journalist in the world--has finally been released in Uzbekistan, but we remain outraged at the grave injustice that robbed him of 19 years of his life," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "If President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is serious about turning a new page in his country's treatment of the media, restrictions will be dropped against Ruzimuradov, charges will be dropped against Bobomurod Abdullaev and Hayot Nasriddinov, and they too will be freed."
Abdullaev, a freelancer who reported for outlets including Fergana, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was detained in Tashkent on September 27, 2017. His relatives told representatives of several human rights groups last month that Abdullaev told them he was tortured and mistreated in detention. Today Fergana reported that Abdullaev's defense attorney was not allowed to meet with the journalist.
Nasriddinov, a blogger and economist, was arrested in October on similar charges. There are serious concerns that he may have also been tortured in custody, according to human rights organizations. A relative of one of the journalists told CPJ that both of them are in the Uzbek security services' detention center in Tashkent.
Last month, CPJ and a coalition of 11 other international press freedom and human rights groups called on Uzbekistan to release all imprisoned journalists and investigate allegations that some were tortured in custody.