PPF urges Uzbek president to release journalist imprisoned for 17 years
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), in a letter to Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan, urged for the release from prison of Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists.
The 62-year old Bekjanov, in prison for the last 17 years, was recently moved to solitary confinement, according to Human Rights Watch. He is already suffering from multiple health issues due to torture by prison officials and untreated illnesses.
PPF Secretary General Owais Aslam Ali urged the government of Uzbekistan to order the release of Bekjano and other journalists being held for performing their professional duties. Ali added that such an act would highlight Uzbekistan’s willingness to address its appalling human rights and free speech record. Uzbekistan is consistently one of the worst ranked countries in Reporters Without Borders’ ‘World Press Freedom Index.’
Muhammad Bekjano was extradited to Uzbekistan by Ukraine in 1999, from where he edited the country’s leading opposition newspaper. As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, he tried to initiate debate on taboo subjects such as the state of the economy, forced labor and environmental disasters.
Bekjano’s brother was also an opposition candidate, and many believe that his continued detention is political in nature. In January 2012, when Bekjanov had completed most of his sentence, authorities extended his sentence by five years for having broken unspecified prison rules. He was also not considered for an amnesty offered by the government to prisoners above sixty years of age.
At least nine other journalists are currently jailed in Uzbekistan in connection with their work. Many opposition politicians, human rights defenders and other civil society representatives languish in prison, along with thousands of people arbitrarily accused of “religious extremism.”