An Uzbek journalist and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany scholarship holder has just been extradited to his home country, where he faces imprisonment. RSF is calling on Tashkent to drop the charges against him and allow him to leave the country safely.
Bobomurod Abdullaev, an Uzbek journalist and scholarship recipient from emergency aid program of RSF's German section, which was organizing his transfer to Berlin, arrested on August 9 in Bishkek at the request of the Uzbek secret services, was extradited by military plane by the Kyrgyz authorities on August 22, in violation of international conventions.
During his detention in Bishkek, the journalist was kept in solitary confinement and his lawyers were denied access to him, allegedly due to coronavirus quarantine rules. Once in Uzbekistan, he underwent six hours of interrogation and was finally released in the evening after signing a document assuring his "good conduct". According to his lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, Bobomurod Abduallaev is not allowed to travel to Uzbekistan or leave the country without the permission of the inspector in charge of the investigation and until it is completed, which could take up to three months.
On the evening of 22 August, a video message from Bobomurod Abdullayev to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev appeared on the Facebook page of the news site Kun.uz. The journalist thanked the Head of state for granting his mother's request for his release. It is not known where this video was shot and whether the journalist acted voluntarily or under pressure from Uzbek secret services.
"If Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is serious about his commitment to reforms, all the charges against Bobomurod Abdullaev must be dropped immediately and the Uzbek authorities must allow him to travel safely to Germany," said RSF Gemany’s Executive Director Christian Mihr. "We fear that our programme participant could be arrested again as soon as international interest in the case wanes."
According to his Kyrgyz lawyers, Abdullaev is under criminal investigation in Uzbekistan on charges of "attacks against the president" (Article 158 of the Uzbek Penal Code) and disseminating materials that "target the constitutional order of the Republic of Uzbekistan" (Article 159).
The accusations, for which he faces up to five years in prison, are based on the publication of posts critical of the Uzbek president and government under the pseudonym Qora Mergan. However, the journalist has always denied being behind this alias, and the account holder has himself denied any link with Bobomurod Abdullaev, and continued to publish on the Telegram messaging service after his detention.
Abdullaev was already held in detention in Uzbekistan for seven and a half months in 2017/2018 because of his journalistic activities, and reported at the time that he was tortured while in prison. Between November 2019 and February 2020, he spent three months in Berlin within the framework of the emergency aid program of RSF Germany, which had invited the journalist to accept an emergency scholarship this summer due to the acute risks he faces in his own country.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are ranked 156th and 82nd respectively out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.