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Dissident freed but unjust conviction intact

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 21, 2011 - Uzbek authorities released the dissident Yusuf Jumaev from prison on May 19, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Jumaev, a civic activist, poet, and prominent government critic, was imprisoned in April 2008, following a conviction on politically motivated charges, and was ill-treated in prison. He will join his family in the US, according to a variety of sources.

"We are thrilled that Yusuf Jumaev is free and can reunite with his family," said Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Jumaev never should have been behind bars in the first place." At least 13 human rights defenders and numerous political activists and independent journalists remain in prison in Uzbekistan in retaliation for their work or criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch said.

Jumaev was arrested in the weeks before the December 2007 presidential election after he called for President Islam Karimov to resign. Jumaev had also written poems and staged protests about the 2005 government massacre of largely peaceful protesters in Andijan, as well as about government oppression, and the arrest of his son.

Jumaev was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly causing bodily injury, resisting a government representative, and insulting a government official during a protest. He had also been convicted of insulting the honor and dignity of the president in 2001, but his sentence was suspended.

Jumaev served his sentence for the 2007 arrest in Jaslyk - Uzbekistan's most notorious prison. He was badly mistreated there, resulting in serious health problems. His family reported that in June 2010, Jumaev had been repeatedly beaten by his cellmates, but prison authorities had ignored his requests to be moved. In late October 2010, prison authorities forced Jumaev to stand out in the cold and heavy rain for two hours without giving him any reason for the apparent punishment.

Jumaev's release follows an apology he addressed to Karimov in connection with the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence. Although Jumaev was released, the conviction was not quashed and the government has not given any indication that it intends to ease its campaign to crush its critics, Human Rights Watch said.

"Jumaev's release is a positive development but it serves as a stark reminder of the many other activists who remain unjustly behind bars and the urgency of securing their release," Swerdlow said. "Jumaev's imprisonment and the ill-treatment he suffered underscore the danger of dissent in Uzbekistan."

Prison conditions in Uzbekistan are deplorable and torture and ill-treatment are systematic. Human rights defenders in prison for no reason other than their legitimate human rights work include: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Alisher Karamatov, Jamshid Karimov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Habibulla Okpulatov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov.

Several of them are in serious ill-health and at least seven have suffered torture or ill-treatment in prison. "We remain deeply concerned about the well-being of other civic activists and human rights defenders and call for their immediate and unconditional release," Swerdlow said. "Securing their freedom should be an urgent priority for Uzbekistan's partners."

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