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Uzbekistan28 February 2006

Release of Radio Free Europe journalist imprisoned for covering Andijan crackdown

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Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release from prison on 26 February 2006 of Nosir Zokirov, of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), arrested for daring to interview a local witness about the bloody crackdown in Andijan on 13 May.

Zokirov, who worked for the radio’s Uzbek service, was freed after serving his full six-month sentence following his arrest on 26 August 2005 and conviction for “insulting a member of the government”.

“We are relieved at the release of Nosir Zokirov, wrongly convicted and thrown in prison when he was only doing his job of informing the public,” the press freedom organisation said.

“He was given no opportunity of defending himself at his trial, the verdict of which was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately we cannot rejoice at his release because the journalist has served his entire sentence and the courts did not listen to his appeals for leniency,” it added.

He was convicted without the judge allowing him to brief a lawyer and no witness was called to give evidence.

He received a visit in his cell in October from a publicly appointed lawyer informing him that a new charge had been laid against him for defaming the president, under Article 158 of the criminal code. This charge was withdrawn in December.

Zokirov spent three and a half months in prison and two and a half months at a custody centre. He was regularly moved from one place to another and interrogated by the secret services (SNB) who reprimanded him. He suffered constant harassment, but fortunately was not tortured.

He is now free but without any means to support himself. He has very little chance of finding work. He no longer has an employer, since the authorities closed the offices of Radio RFE/RL in Tashkent, in December 2005. Other foreign media, such as the BBC and Internews have been banned from working in the country since the Andijan killings.

Three journalists have been in prison since 1999, two of them, Jusuf Ruzimuradov and Mohammed Bekjanov accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation because they wrote for opposition newspaper, Erk. The third, Sabirjon Yakubov, of the independent weekly Hurriyat (Freedom), has been detained since April 2005 for a simple press offence.

22 September 2005

Six-month prison sentence confirmed for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent

The appeal court in Namangan, eastern Uzbekistan, on 19 September rejected an appeal by Nosir Zokirov, correspondent in Namangan for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, against a six-month prison sentence for „insulting a government official‰ under Article 140 of the criminal code. The ruling comes two days after the opening of the trial of 15 alleged leaders of an uprising Andijan, in the east, that ended in a bloody crackdown.

Nosir Zokirov was one of the first journalists on the scene in Andijan, on 13 May 2005, and reported on the raid on the town‚s jail.

31 August 2005

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter sentenced to six months in prison

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Nosir Zakirov, the correspondent of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in the eastern province of Namangan, who was convicted of "insulting a government official" and sentenced to six months on prison on 26 August.

"We are outraged by the severity of this sentence, which is out of all proportion to the alleged offence and shows the extent of the threat to free expression in Uzbekistan, where criticism is not tolerated anywhere," the press freedom organisation said.

Reporters Without Borders said it had registered three other cases of harassment of Radio Free Europe correspondents since June, adding that "harassment of an independent radio station is unacceptable."

Zakirov’s prosecution was prompted by his action in letting a local resident, Haydarali Komilov, read a poem on the air in which he criticised the government’s violent crackdown on protest in Andijan in May.

The prosecution made much of a phone conversation between Zakirov and the Namangan police in which he objected angrily to the pressure being put by the authorities on Komilov to publicly state that he was forced to read the poem on the air.

Zakirov, who has worked for Radio Free Europe since 1996, was one of the first to be in Andijan on 13 May and gave a live report of the storming of the prison by telephone.

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