Ukraine urged not to deport Uzbek journalist
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Ukrainian authorities not to deport Narzullo Akhunzhonov, an Uzbek journalist held since 20 September, when he was arrested at Kiev international airport under an Interpol red notice issued at the request of the Uzbek authorities.
Akhunzhonov was detained when he arrived with his wife and children on a flight from Turkey with the intention of seeking political asylum. On 22 September, he appeared before a Kiev court, which later ordered him held provisionally for 40 days. His lawyer has appealed against the order.
He disputes the fraud charges on which the Uzbek authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. The Uzbek authorities claim that he fraudulently obtained 2,000 dollars in 2009 although they did not open their investigation into the allegations until nearly four years later, in 2013.
“The Ukrainian authorities must not send Narzullo Akhunzhonov back to Uzbekistan,” RSF said. “We urge the Ukrainian attorney-general’s office to oppose his extradition in order to guarantee his protection. Deporting him to a country where independent journalists are persecuted and torture is systematic would violate Ukraine’s international obligations.”
Akhunzhonov worked for many years as a journalist with Uzbekistan’s national radio and TV broadcaster. He began being subjected to intimidation attempts by the authorities in 2013, partly as a result of his investigative reporting into the case of a prominent athlete who was the victim of trumped-up fraud charges.
Three years before that, he sided with two colleagues, Malokhat Eshonkulova and Saodate Omonovykh, who had publicly denounced the corruption and censorship prevailing within the national broadcaster. He also worked on several occasions with the BBC’s Uzbek service on political and social subjects.
He fled the country in November 2013 as the threats against him and his family intensified. He found a temporary refuge in Turkey, but the intimidation attempts continued. He received threatening phone calls, he was followed and he was visited at his home.
Fearing for his life, he finally decided to leave Turkey with his family and seek asylum in Ukraine.
Uzbekistan has been near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index for years and is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in the 2017 Index. The Uzbek authorities have a complete monopoly of news and information, and independent journalists who try to work are exposed to the possibility of extremely severe reprisals.
Many reports have documented the widespread use of torture in Uzbek prisons. RSF has often condemned Interpol’s exploitation by repressive regimes, which do not hesitate to get Interpol to issue red notices for the arrest of critics who have fled abroad.