Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards yesterday’s Uzbek court decision to free journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, blogger Hayot Nasriddinov and two fellow defendants as “historic,” but regrets that Abdullaev was not acquitted and calls for a full and impartial investigation into the acts of torture to which he was subjected.
After being held for seven months, Abdullaev was released at the end of a two-month trial but was convicted of “public calls for the government’s overthrow” and was sentenced to having 20% of his salary deducted for just over a year. The Tashkent court acquitted his three co-defendants including Nasriddinov, who had been detained since October 2017.
Noting in its verdict that members of the SGB (State Security Service) – formerly known as the SNB – repeatedly violated the criminal code in the initial stages of the case, the court called on the SGB to conduct an internal investigation and to ensure that its staff adhere to the criminal code in future.
“We regret that Bobomurod Abdullaev was not acquitted but his release and the fact that he was able to publicly defend himself during the trial would have unimaginable just a short while ago,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“We urge the authorities to continue on this course by conducting a full and impartial investigation into the manipulation and acts of torture on which this case was based. The verdict sends a strong signal, but in-depth reforms are now needed to put an end to the censorship and to ensure that no more journalists are subjected to an ordeal of this kind.”
After his arrest on 27 September 2017, Abdullaev was initially accused of plotting a coup attempt and of writing a series of articles under the pseudonym of “Usman Khaknazarov” that incited the government’s overthrow. He acknowledged using this pseudonym in the past but denied writing the offending articles.
While detained, Abdullaev was insulted, tortured and threatened with being killed. In an open letter to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the end of last month, he said he had been subjected to physical violence by SNB investigators to force him to testify against himself and opposition leaders.
He repeated these claims during the trial, which observers were allowed to attend for the first time. Many journalists, diplomats and human rights defenders observed the trial.
Since taking over as president in 2016, Mirziyoyev has promised to end the oppressive and arbitrary practices that marked the rule of his predecessor, Islam Karimov. After releasing a number of political prisoners, including journalists held for nearly 20 years, he fired the SNB’s all-powerful boss and announced an overhaul of the agency.
But, despite the many signs of a thaw, the media are still largely under the government’s control and the leading independent news websites cannot be accessed from within the country.
Uzbekistan is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index, four places higher than in the 2017 Index.