(Washington, DC / Prague, Czech Republic) Former RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Salijon Abdurahmonov was sentenced today to ten years in prison, following his conviction by an Uzbek court on alleged illegal drug possession charges. Human rights and media rights groups have characterized the charges as "bogus" and an attempt to silence a critic of the Uzbek government.
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin condemned Abdurahmonov's conviction, saying that "The sentencing of Mr. Abdurahmonov on such spurious allegations is an outrage against due process." Gedmin notes that the case is "yet another example of the Uzbek government's drive to wipe out any vestige of free speech and independent criticism in that country."
Abdurahmonov was arrested in June, after police claimed to discover drugs in his car after it was stopped by traffic police in the western Uzbek city of Nukus. Abdurahmonov's defense attorney, Rustam Tulganov, says the lack of evidence linking his client to the seized drugs and video footage of the raid shown during Abdurahmonov's trial shows that "Everything has been staged... In my opinion, Salijon was framed. It's one big setup."
Abdurahmonov was an RFE/RL correspondent until 2005, when the Tashkent bureau was closed after the Andijon crackdown, in which troops loyal to Uzbekistan President Karimov opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing around 700 people, including women and children. Abdurahmonov is a native of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in western Uzbekistan, who writes frequently about the region for independent media and is a contributor to Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Human rights and media rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have all criticised Abdurahmonov's detention and called for his immediate release.
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service broadcasts six hours of programming a day to Uzbekistan via shortwave, medium wave and satellite broadcasts. Programming is also available online at www.ozodlik.org. English-language news from Uzbekistan can be found on the RFE/RL website at www.rferl.org.