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Uzbekistan18 November 2008

Fear that appeal court will allow imprisonment to silence Karakalpakstan’s last independent voice

There is sadly little chance that journalist and human rights activist Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov will be cleared when the supreme court of the western autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan tomorrow hears his appeal against his 10 October conviction on a trumped-up drug trafficking charge, for which he received a 10-year prison sentence.

Aged 58 and a contributor to many independent media and NGOs, Abdurakhmanov has been detained since 7 June.

“In view of the incoherence of the prosecution case and the failure to establish Abdurakhmanov’s guilt, the judicial authorities should just dismiss the case and thereby show they refuse to compromise their integrity by serving as a tool for retaliating against journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Karakalpakstan’s last independent voice must not be silenced by imprisonment.”

The press freedom organisation added: “If the court confirms the conviction, we think the European Union will have to ask itself whether the partial lifting of sanctions against Uzbekistan’s leaders, adopted on 13 October, is justified.”

The poorly-contrived nature of the case against Abdurakhmanov is evidenced by the fact that the initial charge of “consuming drugs with no intention of reselling them,” was changed after two medical tests showed that he was not a drug user. He was then charged under article 25-273 paragraph 5 of the criminal code with “trafficking in drugs with the intention of reselling them.”

The police claim that 114 grams of marijuana and 5 grams of opium were found hidden in the boot of Abdurakhmanov’s car after he was stopped by traffic police in Nukus, the republic’s capital, on 7 June for a “routine” check of documents. The traffic police called for reinforcements, who came with sniffer dogs, and it was then that the drugs were supposedly found although the dogs showed no sign of detecting anything.

The police filmed the entire process of Abdurakhmanov’s arrest and the search of his car with a digital video camera. During the trial, Abdurakhmanov’s lawyer repeatedly requested a screening of the video but the prosecution kept refusing to show it or allow it to be admitted as evidence.

At the end of the trial, the prosecution did finally produce two video cassettes but they did not show the dogs carrying out their inspection or the discovery of the drugs. According to Abdurakhmanov’s lawyer, around 40 minutes are missing from the videos. All this reinforces the hypothesis that the police check was planned rather than routine, and the question remains: why did the prosecution refuse to screen the entire video?

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