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Uzbekistan29 August 2003

EU and embassies urged to press for release of jailed human rights journalist

Reporters Without Borders called today on the European Union (EU) and Western embassies to push for the release of jailed Uzbek journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, who says he pleaded guilty to sex charges at his recent trial after being physically and psychologically ill-treated.

It also called on the German, French, US, Swiss and EU embassies in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to ensure international standards of justice were observed in the case and to guarantee the safety of Sharipov’s family and his lawyer, human rights activist Surat Ikramov, who was beaten up by thugs in Tashkent on 28 August.

Sharipov, former head of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan (UIJU) and correspondent for the Russian news agency Prima, has been frequently harassed by the authorities in recent years to drop his human rights work and criticism of the government.

Reporters Without Borders considers that this and disclosure of his forced confession indicates that his jailing on 13 August for five and a half years for alleged homosexuality and relations with minors was the result of a trumped-up prosecution simply to silence one of the country’s most strident dissidents. The attack on his lawyer, who had just been discussing his case with the judge in charge, and the fact that it took place the day before a planned demonstration in support of Sharipov showed a serious attempt to prevent Sharipov being defended, it said.

Sharipov revealed that the confession was forced to a visitor who saw him on 27 August. He also asked his lawyer to lodge an appeal on his behalf. He said he had "confessed" on 8 August, asked President Islam Karimov to forgive him for everything he had written, refused to allow his mother (the only defence figure allowed) to attend his trial and dismissed Ikramov as his lawyer. The Mirzo Ulug-Beg district court in Tashkent then sentenced him under articles 120, 127-3 and 128-2 of the criminal code.

Sharipov, who has never denied he is bisexual, told Vasilya Inoyatova, president of the Uzbekistan human rights group E’zguilik, who saw him on 27 May, that he did not know the alleged victims, who had been arrested on 26 May and held for several days. Sharipov’s lawyer said the youths were beaten and threatened by police to get them to give evidence in court. The case was postponed several times because of their absence in court.

Ikramov was attacked on 28 August by four masked men in military uniforms who dragged him out of his car, put a bag over his head, tied him up, took him to a city park and beat him with sticks for an hour. He has was taken to a clinic with two broken ribs and badly bruised. He had been to see the judge in the case, Ganisher Makhmudov, to ask permission to visit Sharipov. The judge had advised him to drop the case "in his own interests."

Ikramov told journalists he had expected the attack and had recently had telephoned death threats. A demonstration on 29 August in support of Sharipov, to be attended by Ikramov and coinciding with the new session of parliament, was cancelled. On 22 August, Ikramov had attended a press conference and a demonstration in front of the interior ministry.

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