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Court frees jailed human rights activist after forcing her to criticise independent journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - An appeal court in Andijan reduced human rights activist Gulbahor Turaeva's sentence from six years in prison to a suspended six-year sentence on 12 June 2007 after she promised the court to turn over a new leaf and criticised several independent journalists by name. It was the second time in a month that an Uzbek court has suspended an activist's jail sentence after a public confession.

A doctor and mother of four, Turaeva had been convicted on 24 April of defamation, distributing documents liable to disturb the peace and trying to overthrow constitutional rule under article 159 of the Criminal Code.

"The Uzbek government has made no progress in human rights since the Andijan massacre, despite the dialogue started with the European Union," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is appalling to see the authorities use the same methods - activists being forced to confess and denounce their colleagues in return for clemency - in the space of a few weeks. Not only do they sentence people to long jail terms, but they then force them to renege on their convictions and incriminate the people they worked with."

Turaeva unexpectedly said in court on 12 June: "I thank the court for its clemency, its humanity and the respect it has shown me. I will now look for a new job and I will probably work for the government. I promise never to break the law again." She went on to criticise and insult several independent journalists who fled the country after the Andijan uprising and ensuing massacre, including Marcus Bensmann (a German national) and journalist Galima Bukharbayeva, who was also the former director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting from 2000 to 2005, and Nigora Khidoyatova, leader of the "Free Farmers" opposition party.

Bukharbayeva said the government had "once again broken" someone who was a committed opponent. Turaeva and Bukharbayeva knew each other well and both were in Andijan at the time of the massacre in May 2005. Bukharbayeva, who now works for Uznews ( ), said there were now few independent journalists working in Uzbekistan.

Bukharbayeva said Turaeva had been a reliable, trustworthy person who was a member of Anima-kor, an NGO that defended the rights of doctors and their patients. She was a key witness of the Andijan massacre, helped compile a list of the victims, and was among those capable of challenging the government's version of what took place.

Uzbekistan has one of the most repressive regimes in central Asia.

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