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Twenty-three members of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) are calling for the full acquittal of Uzbek journalist and human rights activist Umida Niazova.

Niazova was sentenced on 1 May to seven years in prison on charges of illegally crossing the border, carrying contraband and producing and disseminating materials considered a threat to public security. A week later, her seven-year jail term was reduced to a three-year suspended sentence in an appeals court.

In a letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the IFEX members said, "We remain concerned that Umida Niazova's freedom is not unconditional and consider the sentence and remaining restrictions against her to be in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," of which Uzbekistan is a signatory.

IFEX members sent a copy of the letter to the European Council to consider the release of Niazova when it reviewed its policy on sanctions against Uzbekistan on 14 May. Criteria for reviewing the sanctions include "actions of the Uzbek government in the area of human rights." But according to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), the European Council actually eased its sanctions this week by withdrawing the names of four government officials from a list of those who are denied entry to the EU.

Meanwhile, human rights defender Gulbahor Turaeva was sentenced to a second prison term on 9 May, increasing her imprisonment to a total of 11 years and eight months, Human Rights Watch reports. Turaeva was originally sentenced to six years in jail on politically motivated charges for bringing into the country banned books by an exiled opposition leader.

A further 13 Uzbek human rights defenders are currently in custody in Uzbekistan, according to Human Rights Watch.

For background on Niazova's case, see last week's "IFEX Communiqué" article:

Visit these links:
- IFEX Joint Action letter to Uzbek President:
- IFEX alerts on Niazova:
- Human Rights Watch on Turaeva:
(15 May 2007)

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