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RIGHTS ACTIVIST FREED

Last week Uzbek human rights defender Mutabar Tojibaeva was released from jail, where she was serving an eight-year prison sentence for her outspoken criticism of the government following the Andijan massacre, says Human Rights Watch.

Tojibaeva was paroled on 2 June, after serving two years and eight months of her sentence. Although released, Tojibaeva was not amnestied and will continue to serve a three-year suspended sentence.

"We are thrilled that Mutabar Tojibaeva has been released from prison," says Human Rights Watch. "But she should never have been imprisoned in the first place. Her conviction should be annulled, and she should be allowed to do her human rights work without further government persecution."

Tojibaeva told Human Rights Watch that she believes she was paroled because of her medical condition. She was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and is currently in weak condition.

Tojibaeva, who spoke out against the 2005 massacre of mainly unarmed civilians by government forces in Andijan, was arrested in her home in October 2005 on 17 counts of criminal activity, including slander, extortion, tax evasion, polluting the environment, and membership in an illegal organisation - her own unregistered NGO. In March 2006, she was sentenced to eight years in prison in a trial that Human Rights Watch said violated fair trial standards; she was denied the right to prepare an adequate defence or cross-examine several key state witnesses.

Tojibaeva won this year's Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, a prize given by Human Rights Watch and nine other leading human rights organisations.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 11 human rights defenders remain in prison for politically motivated reasons. Seven human rights defenders have been released from prison or amnestied since January 2008, many of them only after they signed statements promising to abandon their human rights activism.

Read more about Tojibaeva at: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/06/02/uzbeki19004.htm

(20 June 2008)

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