Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that a court in Ferghana has sentenced Aziz Yusupov, the brother of a journalist working abroad for Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), to eight years in prison on a trumped-up charge of drug possession.
The only evidence produced during the trial, held on 3 August, was the confession obtained by the defence lawyer assigned to Yusupov by the National Security Service (the Uzbek intelligence agency), who told him that his conviction was inevitable and that a guilty plea would help reduce his sentence.
No material proof was submitted to the court to support the charge, which changed several times and became increasingly serious during the series of interrogations to which Yusupov was submitted prior to the trial.
“Far from contenting themselves with complete control over the media, the Uzbek authorities keep on stepping up their persecution of the country’s few remaining independent journalists,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“Yusupov’s conviction is yet one more example of their ability to always find something worse to do. Uzbekistan is a living hell for journalists. The reports reaching us from there are more and more alarming. It is high time the international community faced up to this situation, which threatens not only Uzbekistan’s citizens but also regional stability.”
Since the massacre of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators by the army in the eastern city of Andijan in 2005, almost all of the country’s independent journalists have been imprisoned, silenced or forced to flee abroad.
Independent national media outlets have completely disappeared within Uzbekistan and only media outlets based abroad such as RFE/RL and the news agency Ferghana continue to provide reliable and critical coverage of domestic political developments.
At least nine journalists are currently jailed in Uzbekistan. The two who have been held the longest are Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov. They have languished in prison since 1999, the year that the last opposition political parties were suppressed.
Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov has been held since 2008, when he was given a ten-year term on a trumped-up drug trafficking charge, while Uznews.net, a website he worked for, was closed down in December 2014. The other detained journalists are Dilmurod Sayid, Bakhrom Ibragimov, Davron Kabilov, Ravshanbek Vafoev, Botyrbek Eshkuzyev and Gayrat Mikhliboyev.
Conditions are terrible in Uzbekistan’s prisons: torture is widely used and most detainees are ill, many of them with tuberculosis.
Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.