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Uzbekistan14 June 2004

Call for Ruslan’s Sharipov’s immediate release

Reporters Without Borders today urged Uzbekistan’s authorities to take advantage of legal provisions to amnesty and immediately release journalist Ruslan Sharipov now that he has served a third of the prison sentence he received last year.

The call was issued after the government commission responsible for applying sentences met on 12 June to consider the possibility of commuting his sentence under article 164 of the criminal code.

"Known for his criticism of the government and his human rights work, Ruslan Sharipov is a symbol of the oppression of journalists in Uzbekistan today, and the aim of the charges against him was just to silence a dissident voice," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Releasing him would help restore the country’s image, which has been tarnished by so many press freedom violations," the organisation added.

Sharipov, 25, was sentenced on appeal on 25 September 2003 to four years in prison for homosexuality (under article 120 of the criminal code) and for allegedly having sex with a minor (article 128). This sentence was reduced to just over three years by a general amnesty in December 2003. The authorities had said then that he could be freed in June 2004.

A former president of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan (UIJU) and correspondent for the Russian news agency Prima, Sharipov was arrested on 26 May 2003.

Under duress, he pleaded guilty on 8 August 2003, asked President Karimov to be forgiven for all his critical articles, and waived his right to legal defence. In a letter to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on 5 September, he said he had been forced to plead guilty after undergoing physical and psychological torture.

Sharipov has never denied his bisexuality but he claims he had never met the adolescents who were alleged to have been his victims. They were detained on 26 May and held for three or four days. Sharipov’s lawyer said they were beaten and threatened by police to get them to testify against Sharipov in court. In fact, the trial had to be adjourned several times because they failed to turn up.

For several years, Sharipov had been the target of harassment aimed at getting him to give up his human rights activities and articles criticising the authorities.

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