Report: Uzbekistan Case Against Jailed Reporter to Be Dropped
A prominent rights activist has said his sources have told him the security services agents in charge of the case themselves face arrest.
A rights activist in Uzbekistan has claimed that sedition charges against reporter Bobomurod Abdullayev, who was arrested by the security services in late September, are being dropped.
Surat Ikramov, head of the Tashkent-based Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders, also said on February 8 in a post on Facebook that the National Security Service, or SNB, officers handling Abdullayev’s case may themselves be charged with effecting an illegal arrest, torture and fabricating a criminal case. Ikramov said he had received the reports from a “trusted source.”
“The probe is being carried out by a group of investigators with the General Prosecutor’s Office,” Ikramov said. “As soon as the guilt of the SNB investigators has been established, the officers in charge of journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev’s case will be arrested and sent for trial.”
If confirmed, these developments would mark yet another shock decline in the fortunes of the security services, or SNB, which have come under sustained assault from President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in recent weeks. The news would be greeted with approval by rights activists who had expressed concern that moves to neuter the security services might not be accompanied by similarly robust measures to tackle their abuses.
On January 31, Mirziyoyev stunned watchers of the region by removing long-standing SNB chairman Rustam Inoyatov, 73, who had been in his position for more than 22 years. Inoyatov has been replaced by outgoing General Prosecutor Ikhtiyor Abdullayev. Since then, it has emerged that the security services were stripped of their elite armed units earlier in the month. In early May, Mirziyoyev had ordered that the country’s internal troops, a force of around 20,000 men whose tasks include quelling public unrest and protecting government facilities, be passed from SNB subordination to the Interior Ministry.
Also on February 8, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, published an audio recording of Mirziyoyev savagely criticizing the SNB during a speech made to civil society activists in the Surkhandarya region on January 19. It is not clear why the tape has only now surfaced.
“You know, these [SNB agents] have no respect for the people. They have done absolutely nothing to deserve their salaries and lapels,” Mirziyoyev is heard to say, with anger clear in his voice. He added that the “time had ended” when SNB officers would be in a position to harass local government officials.
Abdullayev’s fate has for several months been considered a bellwether of the government’s genuine intent to pursue some degree of political liberalization. Other recent developments had been encouraging.
Earlier this week, the authorities released Dilmurod Saidov, a journalist who had been imprisoned since 2009 on charges of forgery and extortion. His supporters have long argued that the accusations against him were trumped-up and a reprisal for his reporting on human rights violations.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, hailed Saidov’s release and urged more be done.
“I call on the authorities to release all journalists who remain behind bars, including Yusuf Ruzimurodov, Bobomurod [Abdullayev], Gayrat Mikhliboev and Khayot (Khan) Nasreddinov,” Désir said in a statement.
The US ambassador in Tashkent, Pamela Spratlen, echoed the remarks, suggesting that “media environment is easing and there's a ray of hope shining from the Saidov release.”
But even as reports of Saidov being freed were circulating, Abdullayev’s relatives claimed that the journalist had been tortured while in custody. The allegations were detailed by Abdullayev’s mother, Gavkharzhon Madaminova, who visited him at the SNB pre-trial detention center on January 10. Abdullayev told his mother than security service agents pressured him into declining the services of a lawyer and threatened grave charges if he attempted to derail his upcoming trial.
“They said that if I did not admit to all the charges, I would not get out of there alive,” Bobomurod told his mother, according to a BBC Uzbek service report.