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Thirty-two IFEX members demand release of reporter serving 10 years

The Aral Sea in 1990: completely dried up
The Aral Sea in 1990: completely dried up

William C. Tumley

An Uzbek journalist who dared to cover some of his country's worst environmental disasters was arrested last year on trumped-up drug charges and is now serving 10 years in jail. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House and 30 other IFEX members have sent a joint letter to the Uzbek authorities to demand that Salijon Abdurahmanov is freed and that journalists are never imprisoned for their work.

Abdurahmanov was arrested on 7 June 2008 on charges of drug possession and drug use, later changed to a more serious charge of drug trafficking. According to CPJ sources in the region, drugs found in Abdurahmanov's car during a police search were planted. Abdurahmanov's guilt was not proven either during the investigation or at the trial. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail last October.

"Mr. President, jailing independent journalists on unsubstantiated charges does not benefit the reputation of your country. It undermines people's trust in their government and sows pessimism and apathy among people, which has the potential to turn into radicalism," says the appeal.

According to the members, who joined local journalists in the appeal, Abdurahmanov was the only independent journalist to cover the environmental degradation and its human impact in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in western Uzbekistan. The area, once an oasis of rivers, lakes, marshes, forests and farms, is being poisoned by wind-borne salt and chemicals from the heavily polluted Aral Sea - and is drying up. Karakalpakstan is rife with unemployment and health issues resulting from the economic nightmare.

CPJ and Freedom House say that the President, who recently took part in the summit of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, would benefit from Abdurahmanov's reports.

Abdurahmanov worked as a local correspondent based in Karakalpakstan for the international broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and the independent news website Uznews.

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