Reporters Without Borders condemns the six-year jail sentence that a court in Tashkent passed today on Khayrullo Khamidov, a popular radio host, poet and sports commentator. Khamidov’s trial, held behind closed doors, ended on 11 May but the sentencing was postponed three times for unknown reasons.
Detained since last January, Khamidov was convicted on a charge of belonging to a banned Muslim organisation under article 216 of the criminal code, concerning “the organisation or active participation in a proscribed social or religious movement.”
Reporters Without Borders believes the charge was trumped up with the aim of intimidating and silencing both journalists and government opponents. The government persecutes its opponents relentlessly. At least 11 journalists are currently held in Uzbekistan’s prisons, in which, according to many reports, torture is virtually systematic. The sentence imposed on Khamidov confirms Uzbekistan’s status as Europe’s biggest prison for the media.
Khamidov is well-known in Uzbekistan because of his various radio programmes, in which he often referred to Islam. But he never advocated violence and none of his activities could be regarded as proscribed. His conviction is the act of a paranoid state that just wanted to prevent him from working.
Khamidov was arrested on 21 January in a pre-dawn raid by police who searched his home thoroughly and removed books, CDs and his computer.
In his show “Kholislik Sari” (Voice of Impartiality), a programme on semi-privately-owned radio Navruz with a large audience throughout the country and among Uzbek minorities in neighbouring countries, Khamidov offered advice based on traditional Islamic values to listeners in distress.
In so doing, he shed light on issues that are generally ignored in the official media – public health problems, corruption, prostitution and the country’s social and moral crisis.
His lawyers plan to file an appeal in an attempt to get his sentence reduced. Eighteen other people were tried with him. Five of them were given sentences of five or six years in prison while the other 13 were acquitted.