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Uzbekistan28 June 2004

Ruslan Sharipov released on probation

A district court in Khamzincki, Tashkent sentenced journalist Ruslan Sharipov to two years community service in the central town of Bukhara, at the end of a secret trial.

Reporters Without Borders condemned "the serious violation of the right to defence during this farce of a trial", in a letter to President Islam Karimov.

The court on 23 June ordered Sharipov to serve the rest of his sentence in Bukhara, 600 kms from the capital, and where he has no family. He was sentenced to community service and to pay one quarter of his salary to the government. He cannot leave the city without prior police permission.

The case was heard behind closed doors and in the absence of his lawyers. None of his family was notified in advance. Sharipov was transferred to Bukhara on 25 June.

"What has been presented as an easing of the journalist’s sentence was in fact designed to isolate him further and to prevent his voice being heard," said the international press freedom organisation. "We call for him to be free to move around freely so he can resume his work as a journalist and human rights activist."

A commission met on 12 June 2004 to examine whether Sharipov should have his sentence reduced. He could have been amnestied since he had served one third of this sentence.

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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