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Uzbekistan13 August 2003

Call for immediate release of press freedom defender being tried on sex charges

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the ongoing trial of Ruslan Sharipov, the president of the press freedom organisation UIJU and former correspondent for the Russian news agency Prima News, who is imprisoned on charges of homosexuality and sexually abusing minors.

Although he repeatedly denied the sexual abuse charges after his arrest on 26 May, he is reported to have confessed on 8 August during a trial being held since 23 July behind closed doors. He also reportedly announced his intention to plead guilty and ask President Islam Karimov for a pardon, and refused to see his mother - the only person linked with him who is allowed to attend the trial - as well as his lawyer.

"In view of the unrelenting repression of independent journalists and press freedom defenders in Uzbekistan, everything indicates that Sharipov was arrested on false and sordid pretences designed to rid the authorities of a bothersome, dissident voice," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to President Karimov.

"We are extremely concerned about this journalist’s physical and psychological state and we hold you responsible for any mistreatment he suffers in prison," the letter continued. "We demand that all the charges against him be dropped and that he should be released at once," it concluded.

Sharipov was arrested in Tashkent on 26 May along with fellow UIJU members Azamat Mamankulov and Oleg Sarapulov, who were released four days later. Mamankulov and Sarapulov were not charged, but Mamankulov was beaten and threatened while in detention and was cited as a prosecution witness in Sharipov’s trial.

The police originally denied the arrest of the journalists to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Tashkent, Matilda Bogner, and to a US embassy official before finally confirming it on 27 May to a representative of Freedom House, another NGO.

Sharipov is accused under articles 120, 127-3 and 128-2 of the criminal code of being homosexual and of paying two 15-year-old boys to have sex with them. He faces up to 18 years in prison. Sharipov, who has never denied his bisexuality, told the president of the Uzbek human rights organisation E’zguilik, Vasilya Inoyatova, who visited him in detention on 27 May, that he did not know the alleged victims.

The two boys were detained on 26 May and held for three or four days. Sharipov’s lawyer claims there were beaten and threatened by police to persuade them to testify in court. In fact, the trial has been adjourned several times because of their failure to appear in court.

Sharipov told HRW on 28 May that the police had tortured and threatened him in an attempt to persuade him to abandon his human rights activism. He reiterated that he had been mistreated in a letter sent from prison. He was physically attacked and threatened several times in 2001 and 2002 because of his work.

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