August 14, 2020 - Updated on August 17, 2020

RSF calls for the immediate release of Uzbek journalist

Bobomurod Abdullaev

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the immediate release of Uzbek journalist and RSF scholarship holder arrested by the Kyrgyz authorities at the request of the Uzbek secret services and calls for the withdrawal of the extradition request to Uzbekistan against him.

Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev was arrested in Kyrgyzstan on 9 August at the request of the Uzbek government as RSF tried to organise his safe return to Germany. Bobomurod Abdullaev, a scholarship recipient from the emergency aid programme of RSF's German section, was expected in Berlin. 

“Bobomurod Abdullaev is in prison because he allegedly recently published articles that are critical of the Uzbek government under a pseudonym – but he denies this,” said Michael Rediske, President of RSF Germany. “We call on the Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release him and facilitate his safe passage to Germany. He must not under any circumstances be extradited to Uzbekistan, where he faces prison and torture.”

Bobomurod Abdullaev works as a freelance journalist for the independent news website Ferghana and is a former correspondent for Radio Osodlik (the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. He is the founder of the news website Osod Owos (English: Free Voice), which was banned after the Andijan Massacre in 2005. Over a period of fifteen years and until his conviction in 2018, Abdullaev published articles criticising the regime of former dictator Islam Karimov under the synonym Usman Haqnazarov.

Torture and forced confessions

Abdullaev was arrested for the first time in Uzbekistan in September 2017. The Uzbek law enforcement authorities accused him of calling for the violent overthrow of the government and endangering the constitutional order of Uzbekistan. Abdullaev claimed that he was tortured and forced to make false confessions in prison. In May 2018, after seven and a half months in custody, a court in Tashkent sentenced him to 14 months of community service.

He left Uzbekistan in November 2019 and spent three months in Berlin as part of the RSF Emergency Assistance programme. He then moved to Kyrgyzstan to begin a scholarship programme at the American University of Central Asia. When the programme ended, RSF was trying to organise his safe return to Germany when he was suddenly arrested in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on 9 August. The next day a court ordered him to be detained for 30 days, until September 8. Abdullaev’s lawyer, Timur Karabayev, confirmed that Abdullaev is under criminal investigation in Uzbekistan, and that the authorities there have requested his extradition

The Uzbek secret service has been following the journalist closely again since spring 2020. It suspects him of posting articles criticising President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on social networks, using the alias “Kora Mergan”. On July 25 Abdullaev publicly rejected these accusations on his Youtube channel, and told RSF that he had not published any reports under a pseudonym since his sentence in 2018. Kora Mergan also contradicted the allegations on 11 August and said that there was no connection between him and Abdullaev.

The situation for journalists in Uzbekistan has improved since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office four years ago, but his claims that he is committed to press freedom have often not been borne out by facts. There have been repeated cases of critical bloggers being sentenced to prison. The case of Abdullaev shows that the regime is now also pursuing critical voices abroad.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are ranked 156th and 82nd respectively out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.