Gay Journalist on Trial in Uzbekistan
Associated Press, July 23, 2003
By Bagila Bukharbayeva, Associated Press Writer
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan—An independent journalist
charged with sodomy went on trial Wednesday in Uzbekistan, in a case
highlighting concerns about media freedom and pressure against homosexuals in
this tightly controlled Central Asian country.
The arrest and closed trial of journalist Ruslan Sharipov, who is openly
gay, has been criticized by international human rights and press groups.
Imprisoned since his May 26 arrest, he also faces charges of having sex
with minors and managing prostitutes. In an open letter from jail to President
Bush, Sharipov said those charges were fabricated and that he was being
threatened with torture to confess.
Nazima Kamolova, one of Sharipov’s lawyers, said in an interview that the
charges were “directly linked to his journalistic activities.” Sharipov on
Wednesday demanded an open trial, but the judge refused, saying he wanted to
protect the privacy of alleged victims in the case, who are minors.
Matilda Bogner, a researcher for the international group Human Rights
Watch, said authorities were trying “to stop the case from being publicized
Uzbekistan’s human rights record has attracted more international
attention since the country allowed U.S. troops to use a military base here.
The news media are tightly controlled by the Uzbek government, which tolerates
no dissent, and politically motivated prosecution of journalists is common.
Sharipov, who leads an independent group that focuses on media freedom, has
repeatedly been detained, beaten and questioned by police about his journalism
and human rights activities.
His case has also brought to light the lesser-publicized issue of the
rights of homosexuals.
Of the 15 former Soviet republics, only Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and
Turkmenistan have maintained Soviet-era laws against sex between men,
according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
Uzbekistan’s law is in violation of the International Convenant on Civil
and Political Rights, which Uzbekistan joined in 1995, Kamolova said. The U.N.
Human Rights Committee in 1994 affirmed that the convenant protects the
individual’s sexual orientation, and called on countries to do away with
laws that punish adult consensual homosexual acts.
Gays face regular police harassment in Uzbekistan, and establishments where
they meet are forced to close or heavily monitored by police, said a gay men
who spoke on condition their full names not be revealed.
Average citizens despise and ridicule them or, at best, simply ignore them,
the men said. “There is an unbridgeable gap between me and society,” said
Oleg, who gave only his first name.
Publicly, homosexuality is never spoken about.
On the street, Oleg said police routinely pick up gays, threaten them with
prosecution and extort anywhere from $10 to $100 in bribes depending on their
victim’s social status.
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