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Uzbekistan9 March 2009

Sentences of 5 to 12 years in prison for five journalists

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the sentences ranging from eight to 12 years in prison which a Tashkent criminal court imposed on five journalists on 26 February for allegedly belonging to a banned Islamic organisation and for producing an independent magazine, Irmok, which was allegedly funded by the organisation.

Bakhrom Ibragimov and Davron Kabilov were sentenced to 12 years in prison. Ravshanbek Vafoev got 10 years. Abdulaziz Dadakhonov and Botyrbek Eshkuziev got eight years. They were all convicted under criminal code articles 244.1 and 244.2 of “producing and distributing material whose content threatened public order and security” and “participating in a banned religious, extremist, separatist and fundamentalist organisation.”

“The religious beliefs of these five journalists are just a pretext for preventing an independent press from existing in Uzbekistan,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The prosecution produced no evidence. We urge the defence lawyers to appeal against this verdict and we remind the Uzbek authorities that are engaged in a dialogue on human rights with the European Union that is meant to improve the situation.”

Human rights activists who attended the trial agreed with the defence that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence against the five journalists and that the case was marked inconsistencies and irregularities.

The five journalists are all reportedly members of Nurcular, an Islamic religious movement that is banned in Uzbekistan, Turkey and Russia. The magazine allegedly received financial support from Nurcular.

Launched in 2007, Irmok had a print run of 1,500 copies and was enjoying a degree of success until it was closed down in August 2008 for being funded by Nurcular. The government agency for press and information had previously closed down another independent weekly, Odamlar Orasida, on the same grounds in January 2007.

Uzbekistan was ranked 162nd out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Independent journalist Jamshid Karimov and two journalists with the opposition newspaper Ekr, Jusuf Ruzimuradov and Mohammed Bekjanov, are also currently detained in Uzbekistan, either in prison or psychiatric hospitals.

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