Police arrested Sharipov, 25, on May 26 in the capital, Tashkent, and charged him with sodomy, having sexual relations with minors, and managing prostitutes, according to local and international press reports.
Sharipov, who is openly gay, denied the charges, saying that authorities had threatened him with torture to get a confession. According to a report by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, who visited Uzbekistan in 2002 to inspect several prisons, physical abuse of prisoners is a “systematic” problem in the country. Furthermore, international human rights organizations report that Uzbek authorities commonly use fabricated criminal charges to silence government critics.
Police and the security service have threatened and harassed Sharipov for several years because of critical articles he has written for the Russian news agency Prima and for the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan’s Web site (www.uiju.org) describing police abuses and press freedom violations. Many of Sharipov’s articles were published on the Internet in English, making them far more accessible to an international audience than articles written by other Uzbek journalists and human rights activists.
Two of Sharipov’s colleagues, Oleg Sarapulov and Azamat Mumankulov, who were arrested with him but were later released, told human rights activists that authorities had intimidated them in an effort to force them to testify against Sharipov, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
While homosexuality remains a criminal offense and gays face regular police harassment in Uzbekistan, prosecution of such cases is rare. As a result, local journalists and human rights activists suspect that the charges against Sharipov were an effort to silence his criticism of authorities.
Numerous irregularities have been reported in Sharipov’s trial, which began on July 23, 2003, behind closed doors at the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court in Tashkent, according to local and international press reports.
Judge Ganisher Makhmudov ruled that the trial would be closed to the public to protect the privacy of minors who were allegedly victims in the case. Human rights advocates, however, believe that the trial was closed to prevent public scrutiny of the case.
Sharipov’s lawyers argued that their client could not receive a fair trial because he had criticized the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court and police in previous articles. Judge Makhmudov rejected the lawyers’ request to have the trial moved to a different court in Tashkent.
On August 8, 2003, the trial took a bizarre turn when Sharipov reportedly pleaded guilty to sodomy, waived his right to legal counsel, and expressed his readiness to apologize for criticizing President Islam Karimov and other Uzbek authorities in his articles, according to a member of Sharipov’s defense team. On August 13, the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court convicted Sharipov on all three charges and sentenced him to five-and-a-half years in prison.
On September 5, 2003, Sharipov issued a statement from prison saying that he pleaded guilty to sodomy in his August trial because officials had tortured him into confessing. His statement, which was addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was posted on the Web site of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (www.cjes.ru) on September 9. A member of Sharipov’s family confirmed to CPJ that the statement is authentic.
In the statement, Sharipov wrote, “I was tortured and pressured in ways I cannot describe with the aim of forcing me to confess and plead guilty at the trial for a crime I hadn’t committed.” He continued, “They put a gas mask on my head and sprayed an unknown substance into my throat. … After that I could hardly breath, they injected an unknown substance into my veins and said they will inject me with the AIDs virus if I did not follow their instructions.” Sharipov also wrote that before he pled guilty at his trial, he was forced to write a “death note” declaring he had “committed suicide of my own volition.”
At a closed hearing on September 25, the City Court in Tashkent rejected an appeal by Sharipov to have his conviction and prison sentence overturned, according to local and international press reports. Instead, the court dropped one of the three charges against the journalist and reduced his prison sentence to four years.
A member of Sharipov’s family told CPJ that Sharipov arrived at the court hearing with serious injuries to his eye and broken glasses, and that the police claimed that the injuries were from a car accident.
Surat Ikramov, a human rights activist on Sharipov’s defense team, said that Sharipov was planning to appeal the case to a higher court, the AP reported. Sharipov is currently serving his sentence in Tavaksay Prison, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Tashkent.
In his first interview since his conviction, Sharipov repeated to the AP that he had been coerced into confessing during his trial because of police torture. On December 22, Mikhail Gurevich, chief of staff of the country’s prison system, announced that Sharipov would not be eligible for a wide-ranging presidential pardon scheduled to be carried out that month, the AP reported.