Thursday, August 23, 2012

Uzbekistan: US Urged to Press Tashkent on Political Prisoners

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

US Urged to Press Tashkent on Political Prisoners
By News Briefing Central Asia - News Briefing Central Asia 

The top United States diplomat dealing with Central Asia was quizzed about political prisoners in Uzbekistan when he met local journalists during a visit to Tashkent on August 17.

Reporters asked Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, about whether he had raised the issue – particularly the case of jailed reporter Solijon Abdrahmanov – when he met President Islam Karimov on August 15.

Abdrahmonov was given a ten-year sentence in 2008 on charges widely regarded as fabricated, and is classed as a prisoner of conscience by international human rights group Amnesty International.

Blake replied that “individual cases are not discussed, but we continue to pursue an ongoing dialogue with our Uzbek partners on this issue”.

Sergei Naumov, a freelance reporter from the northwestern Urgench region, said he was encouraged by the fact that a State Department official was prepared to meet local journalists who wanted to write the truth about their country.

"We are hoping the US administration will assist in securing our colleagues’ release,” he said.

Other reporters imprisoned in Uzbekistan include Dilmurod Saidov, given a 12-and-a-half year sentence in 2009; and Muhammed Bekjonov, arrested in 1999, sentenced to 15 years, and facing new charges in prison so that he cannot benefit from an amnesty.

Viktor Krymzalov, an investigative journalist in the capital Tashkent, says it is essential for the US government to press Tashkent to respect freedom of speech and the rights of journalists.

Earlier this year, Krymzalov was fined the equivalent of 1,350 US dollars for an article he did not write. Another reporter, Elena Bondar, independent journalist of Tashkent, was found guilty and fined 3,700 dollars for material the authorities deemed “incendiary”.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.