Twelve human rights organizations have urged Uzbek authorities to release a journalist and other people they say have been "detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression."
In a joint statement on February 13, Human Rights Watch and 11 other groups called on Tashkent to "ensure a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation into the alleged torture and other ill-treatment" of independent journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev.
Abdullaev was detained in September on charges of “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime” and faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
In October, Uzbek authorities arrested well-known economist and blogger Hayot Nasriddinov. They have accused him and others, including Akrom Malikov, an academic who was arrested in 2016, of plotting to overthrow the government.
Abdullaev’s relatives and lawyer say he was tortured and ill-treated while in pretrial detention.
“At a time when the Uzbek government appears to be taking steps to reform the country’s feared security services, reports of a journalist’s torture in their custody should prompt an immediate investigation and decisive, public condemnation,” HRW Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow said in the statement.
In November, President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power after the death of long-ruling authoritarian leader Islam Karimov in 2016, signed a decree prohibiting the courts from using evidence obtained through torture, and forbidding legal decisions based on any evidence not confirmed during trial. The decree comes into force in March.
The move came a month after HRW said that Uzbek authorities had taken "some positive steps" during Mirziyoev’s first year in office and called for "sustainable" improvements in human rights.
“There is a real opportunity for change in Uzbekistan – and yet we hear of journalists and bloggers still being detained and tortured. This case is a test of whether Uzbekistan’s human rights situation is really improving or not,” Brigitte Dufour, director of International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), said in the rights groups' statement.
The 12 human rights groups are HRW, IPHR, Amnesty International, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Civil Rights Defenders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom Now, ARTICLE 19, and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.