The case of Uzbek journalist Abdumalik Boboyev, a correspondent for the US government-funded radio Voice of America, was counted as a success story last year. Threatened with 15 years of prison on vague charges of "insulting the Uzbek people" and "illegal border crossing", his case was taken up by the US government, which raised his plight with visiting Uzbek officials in Washington, again during official visits to Tashkent, and at international meetings. Ultimately, the journalist was released and handed the equivalent of an $8,000 fine -- considered a light punishment only by contrast with torture in prison.
Boboyev was then granted a scholarship by the Hamburg Foundation for the Politically Persecuted, and offered an opportunity to live for a year in Germany, uznews.net reported. But here the Uzbek government reverted to form and denied him an exit visa -- the reporter has spent the last two months bouncing between Samarkand region, where he was born, and the national passport office in Tashkent, trying to get permission to leave the country.
Uzbekistan remains the only post-Soviet state that still retains the requirement to obtain permission to leave the country. (Turkmenistan formally dropped the demand, but maintains a blacklist of those not allowed to enter or exit the country.). Boboyev has been informed that because of his criminal case last year, his is under a travel ban of an unknown duration.
The German foundation is still hoping through appeals to the German Foreign Ministry that an intervention with the Uzbek government may still be possible. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has also called for an end to all the sanctions against Boboyev. .
In March, after a long struggle and litigation against Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry, human rights activist Dmitry Tikhonov was granted an exit visa from Uzbekistan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Tikhonov, a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, had reason enough for a trip abroad -- he was approached in February 2010 by unknown men who asked him "why are you writing on the Internet"? and hit him over the head with an iron bar.
Tikhonov credited the media publicity around his case with a successful outcome. Yet there was no guarantee that this hard-won victory would be duplicated for anyone else.
Once again, the Uzbek regime has supplied a Leninist "two steps forward, one step backwards" experience after a high-profile meeting where a seeming concession on human rights was offered with the release of one prisoner, poet Yusuf Juma.
Now the window of opportunity has shut, and human rights advocates may have to wait for the next international meeting or official Uzbek visit to a Western capital to try to get more progress on such cases.