Otabek Sattoriy, a citizen journalist in Uzbekistan who was ordered to serve more than six years in prison on extortion and libel charges in 2021, has been released after serving less than half his sentence.
A court in the city of Qarshi ruled to commute the sentence on February 5 and ordered that Sattoriy perform correctional labor over the remaining three or so years, Qashqadaryo regional court said in a statement.
Investigators claimed that Sattoriy had at the time of his arrest been caught red-handed while taking a mobile phone he allegedly extorted from the head of a local bazaar in exchange for not disseminating unfavorable reports about him.
Sattoriy denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer insisted the charges were fabricated and that investigators were unable to provide any evidence of Sattoriy’s guilt.
Prior to his arrest, Sattoriy was a popular blogger – as citizen journalists are commonly known in Uzbekistan – in his native Surkhandaryo region. He reported on sensitive local issues and repeatedly criticized the authorities, including the region’s former governor, for alleged mismanagement. He amassed thousands of followers through his Telegram account and a YouTube channel called Xalq Fikri (Voice of the People). His abrasive and confrontational manner, however, rubbed many officials up the wrong way.
Sattoriy’s case drew wide attention both within Uzbekistan and abroad. His imprisonment was condemned by human rights organizations, which called the court’s decision “a miscarriage of justice” and a “blow to freedom of speech.” Last March, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that “the basis for the arrest and subsequent detention of Mr. Sattoriy was in fact his exercise of freedom of expression”.
Sattoriy’s unexpected release comes two months after he was transferred from a penal colony to a colony settlement – a low-security facility where inmates are permitted to move more freely and wear civilian clothes.
In January, Abdurakhmon Tashanov, the head of Tashkent-based rights group Ezgulik, visited Sattoriy, who thanked his supporters and said he was counting the days until he was free.
“He wants to work quietly in IT. He considers … President Shavkat Mirziyoyev a leader with great potential and that he will be proud to serve him,” Tashanov wrote on Facebook following the visit.
Sattoriy has no plans to lodge any further appeals to overturn the 2021 verdict, Tashanov said.