Washington, D.C., September 16, 2019 — Authorities in Uzbekistan must immediately release blogger Nodirbek Hojimatov and allow him to work freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 12, police in Shahrikhan, in eastern Uzbekistan, arrested Hojimatov, a blogger who writes about political and social issues on Facebook, according to reports by BBC Uzbek and the Uzbek service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, known as Radio Ozodlik.
The arrest related to an open letter that Hojimatov published on Facebook on September 9, which was addressed to Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and called on the president to launch a corruption investigation into two local officials.
Following his arrest, the Shahrikhan district court sentenced Hojimatov to 10 days in prison for violating Article 41 of the country’s administrative code, which refers to offenses against a person’s dignity, according to those reports.
“In recent years, authorities in Uzbekistan have made steps to improve the press freedom environment. However, the imprisonment of blogger Nodirbek Hojimatov sends a signal that critical speech continues to be a punishable practice,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Hojimatov must be released immediately and allowed to exercise his constitutional rights without fear of reprisal.”
Hojimatov’s open letter alleged that an Andijan regional governor and a Shahrikhan district governor were undeserving of presidential awards they recently received, and alleged that they were involved in corruption in local construction projects. The letter also claimed that Hojimatov had received threats from both officials.
According to Article 41 of Uzbekistan’s administrative code, punishment for offending a person’s dignity can carry a fine of up to 8.9 million Uzbek sums ($950), but the code does not stipulate any jail sentence.
Hojimatov’s father told Radio Ozodlik that neither he nor his son were allowed to testify at the trial, and he said that Hojimatov did not have a lawyer.
A few days before the arrest, the blogger told Radio Ozodlik that a local prosecutor pressured him to stop writing critical blog posts, according to the broadcaster.
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.