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Uzbekistan9 May 2007

Umida Niyazova freed after recanting on her human rights work in court

Reporters Without Borders has learned that journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova was released on 7 May after a Tashkent court reduced her seven-year jail term to a suspended sentence on appeal. The young woman pleaded guilty during the appeal court hearing, voiced regret for her actions, and criticised the NGOs she worked for.

“The circumstances surrounding Niyazova’s release prevent us from giving it an unqualified welcome,” the press freedom organisation said. “Her release is a gesture by President Islam Karimov to the international community in the run-up to the anniversary of the Andijan crackdown, at a time when the European Union is considering lifting the sanctions it adopted against Uzbekistan.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Niyazova should not have been arrested. We can only deplore the outrageous manner of her release. An activist has had to repudiate her human rights commitments in order to get out of prison and be reunited with her family.”

Niyazova was sentenced on 1 May to seven years in prison for entering the country illegally and for disseminating “subversive” documents, above all a report about the bloody crackdown that followed the uprising in Andijan in May 2005. She had been detained ever since her arrest in January.

The EU voted to adopt sanctions against Uzbekistan after the Andijan crackdown, which left a death toll estimated at about 800 by human rights groups (and 187 by the government). The sanctions were relaxed slightly on 13 November 2006 and are to be reexamined in the next few days.

4 May 2007

EU urged not to lift sanctions after independent journalist gets seven years

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Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the seven-year prison sentenced imposed on 1 May on journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova and urged the European Union not to lift sanctions against Uzbekistan until the government undertakes to stop persecuting its opponents and independent journalists.

The organisation also called on the authorities to release Niyazova pending the outcome of her appeal. Arrested three months ago, she was convicted of entering the country illegally (which she acknowledged) and - the more serious charge - disseminating documents liable to “disturb the peace.”

“This sentence is out of all proportion to the offence and it was imposed with the aim of preventing any discussion of the government’s violations of basic freedoms,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The trial before a court in Tashkent was conducted in a summary fashion that did not allow due process or respect the rights of the defence. The court gave Niyazova’s lawyer only half an hour to prepare her case, and restricted Niyazova’s ability to speak in her own defence.

Press freedom continues to deteriorate in Uzbekistan. Last month it was learned that the forced internment of independent journalist Jamshid Karimov (a nephew of President Islam Karimov) in a psychiatric hospital has been extended by another six months.

The EU voted to adopt sanctions against Uzbekistan after a bloody crackdown on a revolt in Andijan in May 2005 that left a death toll estimated at about 800 by human rights groups (and 187 by the government). The sanctions were relaxed slightly on 13 November 2006 and are to be reexamined later this month.

11 April 2007

Charges brought against journalist arrested in January

Reporters Without Borders today urged the European Union to be tougher with Uzbekistan after charges were brought against journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova on 9 April. According to her brother, she has been charged with smuggling, crossing the border illegally, accepting foreign money and working against the government, and faces between five and 15 years in prison. She was arrested on 22 January.

“We call on the EU to display greater firmness next month, when it examines the sanctions taken against the Uzbek government,” the press freedom organisation said. “The most recent bilateral meetings have put human rights at the centre of the debate between Europe and Uzbekistan. The decision to prosecute Niyazova is a slap in the face that confirms President Islam Karimov’s contempt for human rights. We urge the EU not to undersell the values o democracy and justice.”

The EU voted to adopt sanctions against Uzbekistan after a crackdown on a revolt in Andijan in May 2005 that left a death toll put at about 800 by human rights groups (and 187 by the government). The sanctions were slightly softened on 13 November 2006 and are to be reexamined next month.

31 january 2007

EU urged not to ease sanctions further following arrest of journalist and human rights activist

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Uzbek authorities to release journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova, who was arrested after entering the country near the eastern city of Andijan on 22 January, and to put an end to a continuing wave of repression that began in May 2005.

“The authorities have been cracking down on journalists and human rights activists ever since the May 2005 events in Andijan,” the press freedom organisation said. “Those targeted have been wrongfully arrested, imprisoned or committed to psychiatric institutions. The European Union will soon reexamine the sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan. We urge it not to ease them any further until the Uzbek authorities produce tangible evidence of an improvement in freedom of expression.”

Transferred to Tashkent following her arrest, Niyazova, 32, was charged under articles 233 and 246 of the criminal code on 28 January with entering the country illegally and bringing banned literature with her. She faces a possible sentence of between five and 10 years in prison on these charges. She may additionally be charged with propagating the Muslim faith, also a crime under Uzbek law.

The website reported that police examined the contents of her laptop and found a report by Human Rights Watch (for which she was working as a translator) and accounts of the violent crackdown that followed the May 2005 uprising in Andijan. The authorities claim that these documents link Niyazova to Akramiya, an Islamic movement involved in the Andijan uprising.

As well as Human Rights Watch, Niyazova works for

Veritas, a human rights NGO that is banned in Uzbekistan. She fled across the border to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in December after a problem at Tashkent airport with customs officials, who took her passport and laptop. Told by a friend that the authorities were not going to press charges and w

ere willing to give back her passport and laptop, Niyazova returned the same way but was immediately arrested on reentering the country.

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