Uzbekistan5 April 2006
Reporters Without Borders welcomes release of Sabirjon Yakubov after one year in prison
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Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release of journalist Sabirjon Yakubov for lack of evidence after nearly a year in a secret police prison but strongly deplored his “lengthy preventive detention” and said the authorities, by freeing him yesterday, had “avoided making a serious legal error.”
Yakubov, 23, former correspondent for the independent paper Hurriyat (Freedom), was arrested in Tashkent on 11 April last year along with several other people and was charged with “undermining constitutional order” and “being involved with an extremist religious organisation” under article 159 of the criminal code. He faced between three and 20 years in prison. He did not know exactly why he was being held.
His editor, Ismat Hudoyarov, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders he had been released and other sources said he had left the capital for his parents’ home in the Ferghana region.
Yakubov was regarded by colleagues as very moderate and an expert in Islamic philosophy. They said they did not know why he had been charged, but said the authorities seemed to be suspicious about his articles praising Islam, including a series called “Journey to the country of dreams,” written after he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2005.
The worldwide press freedom organisation noted that a crackdown on the opposition, independent journalists and foreign media was continuing in Uzbekistan. Foreign journalists are accused of trying to discredit the country and “meddling in internal affairs” and are constantly threatened by the authorities.
Two other journalists are still in prison - Yusuf Ruzimuradov and Mohammed Bekjanov, both of the opposition paper Erk - who were arrested on 18 August 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison, reportedly without being allowed to defend themselves in court. Human Rights Watch says Ruzimuradov was tortured in prison. Both were convicted of “trying to overthrow the government by force.” Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate release.
19 April 2005
Young independent journalist faces up to 20 years in prison
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(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of Sabirjon Yakubov (picture), a 22-year-old journalist with the independent weekly Hurriyat ("Freedom"), on 11 April in Tashkent on charges of "infringing the constitutional order" and belonging to an "extremist" religious organization.
"We deplore the arbitrary nature of this arrest of a young independent journalist who was just doing his job and who is being accused without any evidence of belonging to an extremist group," Reporters Without Borders said. "It will be an outrage if he gets a long prison sentence just for reporting something that displeases the Uzbek authorities."
According to the law, he faces a possible sentence of between three and 15 years in prison but, as he was arrested in the company of other persons, the sentence could rise to as much as 20 years in prison, said Ruslan Sharipov, a former dissident journalist now living in exile in the United States.
Charged under article 159 of the criminal code, Yakubov is currently being held in an interior ministry detention centre in Tashkent but should be transferred to Tashkent prison on 21 April at the latest.
His colleagues say the real reason for his arrest was an article he wrote on 16 March about the implication of senior Ukrainian officials in the 2000 murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze and how this was a contributing factor in Ukraine’s "orange revolution" at the end of last year. The article also accused the United States of reining in its human rights monitoring in Uzbekistan after being able to install an air base in the south of the country in 2001 on President Islam Karimov’s invitation.
Staff at Hurriyat voiced surprise at his arrest, describing the young graduate of Tashkent university’s journalism school as being especially moderate in his approach to Muslim philosophy, in which he has specialized.
"It is astonishing that a journalist who has written dozens of articles about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism should be accused of belonging to an extremist religious group," one of his colleagues, Alimar Donanayev, told Reporters Without Borders. "If he does get a long prison sentence, all the journalists will rise up in protest against this arbitrary arrest and will demonstrate," he added.
Born in Margilan (in the Ferghana region), Yakubov has written for Hurriyat since 2001. When he was a student, his teachers recommended him to President Karimov for a scholarship.
Article 159 of the criminal code is often used by the authorities as a way to silence dissent. Yakubov’s arrest recalls that of Hurriyat contributor Gayrat Mehliboyev, who was arrested in 2003 and was sentenced to seven years in prison for "violation of the constitutional order" and "participation in an extremist religious organization."
The www.centrasia.org website quoted a police source on 15 April as saying there is a list of journalists who are under government surveillance. The interior ministry issued an immediate denial.