Gay Uzbek Journalist Waiting for Release
Associated Press, June 12,
By Burt Herman
gay journalist whose conviction for sodomy and having sex with minors has been
internationally condemned as politically motivated may have to wait up to a
month before his early release, a prison official said Saturday.
Demonstrators and human rights activists had gathered
outside a Tashkent minimum-security prison where Ruslan Sharipov is being
held, expecting him to be freed. Their protest was broken up by a plainclothes
security officer, who pulled banners from their hands and broke them over his
knee, shouting homosexual epithets as other police looked on.
Sharipov was convicted in August 2003 of sodomy, sex with
minors and involving minors in anti-social behavior and sentenced to 5 1/2
years. An appeals court overturned the last charge in September and reduced
the jail term to four years.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in March that Sharipov
could be freed June 11, or Friday, under a presidential amnesty that would
further reduce his sentence, but the decision was apparently put off a day.
However, Col. Ludmila Nam of the prison administration
agency said outside the prison Saturday that authorities had up to a month to
assemble a commission to review Sharipov’s case. They will refer their
findings to a court for a decision, but it wasn’t clear when that would
Sharipov’s case has attracted widespread international
criticism, and last month he was awarded the 2004 Golden Pen of Freedom Award
from the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers. Rights groups have
called for his release, saying the charges were motivated by his critical
There are no independent media in Uzbekistan. Although
official censorship was abolished in 2002, media rights groups say
self-censorship is widespread.
Before he was sentenced, Sharipov had abruptly dismissed
his lawyers and pleaded guilty despite earlier maintaining his innocence.
Later, in an open letter to the United Nations, Sharipov wrote he had been
tortured and forced to write a suicide note declaring he had killed himself by
his own choice.
Surat Ikramov, a leading Uzbek human rights activist,
called Saturday for Sharipov’s immediate release for health reasons, saying
he had been treated last month for heart problems that have plagued him since
Ikramov also expressed concern Sharipov would still have
to pay a portion of his salary in fines after his release and wouldn’t have
complete freedom of movement.
After about 10 demonstrators unfurled banners outside the
prison with Sharipov’s picture, a larger group of plainclothes security
agents arrived. One man, who gave his name only as Karim, started shouting at
the group, asking them if they were “waiting for their orders from the
West” and saying they “didn’t need to protect terrorists.”
Karim also shouted epithets, and told the group “I wish
your children would fall under the influence of people like him (Sharipov).”
Ikramov said Sharipov, reached on a mobile phone inside
the prison, said the prison director demanded the group outside disperse and
threatened him. The demonstrators left after about an hour.
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