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Uzbekistan17 March 2004

Reporters Without Borders urges Chris Patten to intervene on behalf of five jailed journalists

Reporters Without Borders has urged Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Relations, to raise the issue of press freedom and the cases of five jailed journalists when he visits Uzbekistan on 18-19 March.

The European Commissioner will meet in Tashkent with President Islam Karimov.

The international press freedom organisation particularly pressed the case of journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, imprisoned since 26 May 2003 after being sentenced to four years for homosexuality and having sexual relations with minors.

Reporters Without Borders believes the unfair trial was designed to silence a dissident voice and to serve as a warning to other journalists and human rights activists in Uzbekistan.

Sharipov, former president of the Union of journalists of Uzbekistan (UIJU) and correspondent for the Russian press agency Prima, has come under severe pressure for several years to get him to drop his human rights work and to stop criticising the authorities in his articles.

He complained several times at the start of his detention of physical and psychological harassment. His prison conditions have improved since 12 March 2004 due to the time he has already served. The authorities say he could be released in June.

In its appeal to the European Commissioner, Reporters Without Borders also referred to four other journalists currently serving prison sentences in Uzbekistan:
-  Jusuf Ruzimuradov, editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Erk, was sentenced on 18 August 1999 to eight years in prison. His confession was obtained through threats to rape family members as well as by torture and psychological pressure. He was accused of wanting "to overthrow the government by force", "membership of an illegal organisation" and "using the press to insult" the president.
-  On the same day and on the same charges, Mohammed Bekjanov, also a journalist on Erk, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
-  Madjid Abduraimov of the weekly Yangi Asr, was arrested on 10 March 2001 and sentenced a few months later to 13 years in prison for corruption. He is known for his critical articles towards the political and legal authorities.
-  Gayrat Mekhliboyev was sentenced on 18 February 2003 to seven years in prison for "belonging to the banned Islamist party Hizb ut- Tahrir", "anti-constitutional activities", and "religious agitation", one month after finishing his journalism studies at Tashkent University. He is accused of using his journalistic work to make religious propaganda.

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