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JOINT ACTION: Thirty-two IFEX members and other partners call on Uzbek President to release wrongfully imprisoned journalist Salijon Abdurahmanov

Abdurahmanov was the only independent correspondent to cover the whole of Karakalpakstan, whose people have already lost the sea, fish, jobs, prosperity and health, and are now losing their last hope for the future.

(CPJ/Freedom House/IFEX)

Mr. Islam Karimov
President of Uzbekistan,
ul. Uzbekistanskaya 43,
Rezidentsia prezidenta,
700163 Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Fax: +998 71 133 1395325.
E-mail: [email protected]

Dear President Karimov,

We, the undersigned, journalists, human rights activists and citizens, ask you - at a time when the international community has been marking World Press Freedom Day on 3 May - for your help to release 58-year-old Uzbek journalist Salijon Abdurahmanov from prison.

Abdurahmanov has 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 Web site Uznews over the past few years. He was arrested on 7 June 2008, on trumped-up charges of drug possession and drug use. Packets of marijuana and opium were found in his car during a police search. According to CPJ sources in the region, the drugs were planted on Abdurahmanov.

After a medical commission established that Abdurahmanov had not taken any drugs, investigators from Nukus police changed a charge of drug use to a more serious one - attempting to sell drugs in large consignment.

Abdurahmanov's guilt was not proven either during the investigation or at the trial. When the defense team asked the question: "Why didn't police take fingerprints from the surface of the packets of drugs found from the car?" investigators answered that the packets were covered in dust, even though the car had been left in the sun for a long time.

In general, the investigators admitted that there had been no reason for sentencing Abdurahmanov on this charge. Moreover, they did not even try to conceal their interest in his journalistic activities: they seized his computer and all books and periodicals in his house, although this seemingly had nothing to do with the charge of selling drugs.

In October 2008, Abdurahmanov was sentenced to 10 years in prison and has since been serving his term in Karshi's prison.

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.

Mr. President, at the end of April you took part in the summit of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea in Almaty. You are very well aware of the appalling conditions the environmental disaster in Karakalpakstan has created and the grave consequences of the drying Aral Sea that its people are facing now.

Abdurahmanov was the only independent correspondent to cover the whole of Karakalpakstan, whose people have already lost the sea, fish, jobs, prosperity and health, and are now losing their last hope for the future.

Articles written by Abdurahmanov talk about the problems of people living in the Aral Sea region and help them to be heard. These articles could help your subordinates draft government policy in Karakalpakstan.

Abdurahmanov has pursued only one aim: turning his country - your country, Uzbekistan - into a better place to live.

As the globe marks World Press Freedom Day, we, the undersigned members and supporters of the international press freedom and human rights community, call upon you to release Abdurahmanov and allow him to do his job without fear of reprisal. Journalists should never be imprisoned for their work.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Signed:

Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, Kazakhstan
Algerian Centre for the Defence and Promotion of Press Freedom (CALP), Algeria
ARTICLE 19, U.K.
Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI), Brazil
Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), Serbia
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network, International (CRNI), U.S.A.
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), U.S.A.
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association, (EFJA), Ethiopia
Freedom House, U.S.A.
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), Colombia
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Initiative for Freedom of Expression (Antenna -TR), Turkey
Institute of Mass Information (IMI), Ukraine
Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Azerbaijan
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), Peru
Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC), Tunisia
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Fiji Islands
Reporters sans frontières (RSF), France
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), U.S.A.

Individual signatories:

Galima Bukharbaeva, Editor-in-Chief of Uznews.net and Chairwoman of the Real Union of Journalists of Uzbekistan (RUJU)
Bahtiyor Hamrayev, Head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan's Jizak Region branch
Markus Bensmann, journalist from Germany
Shakhida Yakub, Uzbekistan Initiative, London

Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House

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