Bekjanov, editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, and Ruzimuradov, a reporter for the paper, are the longest-imprisoned journalists worldwide, CPJ research shows. Both journalists were jailed on politicized anti-state charges after they were forcibly returned to the country from Ukraine in 1999.
In September 1999, a Tashkent court convicted the two of publishing and distributing a banned newspaper. Both were also convicted of participating in a banned political protest and attempting to overthrow the regime. Bekjanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison and Ruzimuradov was sentenced to 15 years.
The journalists were beaten before their trial began, according to CPJ sources and news reports. After the verdict was announced in November 1999, Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov were jailed in penal colonies for individuals convicted of serious crimes.
In January 2012, shortly before Bekjanov was scheduled to be released, authorities sentenced him to an additional five years in prison, citing the violation of unspecified prison rules, regional press reports said. Bekjanov was being held in a prison near the city of Zarafshan in the southwestern Navoi region.
In a September 2014 report on political prisoners in Uzbekistan, the international organization Human Rights Watch said Ruzimuradov was being held in Tavaksay prison colony outside Tashkent. Human Rights Watch said that Ruzimuradov was due to be released in May 2014, but that authorities extended his sentence for an undisclosed period because of unspecified violations of prison rules.
According to a petition published on the online platform Avaaz in December 2014, and to an interview that Dilorom Iskhakova, a member of the opposition party Erk, gave to RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, authorities sentenced Ruzimuradov to an additional three years. Iskhakova said Ruzimuradov’s health had deteriorated and he had acute tuberculosis and hypertension.
Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov were detained in Ukraine, where they had been publishing Erk, the official newspaper of the opposition political party by the same name, in exile. They were extradited at the request of Uzbek authorities. Bekjanov’s brother is Muhammad Salih, the leader of the political party Erk (Liberty) and a 1991 presidential candidate in Uzbekistan. Salih, who has lived in exile since 1993, was sentenced in absentia to prison on anti-state charges in 1999.
In 2014, Human Rights Watch issued a report on Uzbekistan in which it cited the first public testimony of Bekjanov’s family, who said the journalists had been kidnapped in Ukraine.
Nina Bekjanova, the editor’s wife, told reporters that she found his health had deteriorated when she visited him in prison in March 2013. Bekjanova said her husband needed treatment for a hernia and a relapse of tuberculosis, according to Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She said the editor had not complained about his health to her during previous visits, but that during this visit he had said, “There’s not much longer left [for me] to suffer.”
Bekjanova told Uznews that authorities did not obstruct her October 2014 visit to the prison as they had in the past. She said prison authorities had stopped her husband from performing labor at the prison’s brick-making facility due to his age. He turned 62 in October 2016.
In July 2016, Vasila Inoyatova and Abdurahman Tashanov, of the Uzbek human rights group Ezgulik (Kindness), visited Bekjanov in prison and posted a statement from him online in which he expressed hope to see his daughters and asked them to write more often, saying he receives only one or two letters a year. Aygul Bekjan reacted to her father’s photo on Facebook by saying “This is what my father looks like now. I didn’t even recognize him!” The rights group said he was in good health.