Last edited: November 07, 2003

Uzbek Journalist Pleads Guilty to Being Gay / Network, August 12, 2003

By Ari Bendersky

SUMMARY: The admission of guilt by an openly gay Uzbek journalist who was charged with acts of homosexuality has human rights workers concerned that he may have been unduly coerced.

The admission of guilt by an openly gay Uzbek journalist who was charged with acts of homosexuality has human rights workers concerned that he may have been tortured and unduly coerced.

Ruslan Sharipov, 25, a longtime activist and independent journalist, pleaded guilty Friday to charges that he had sex with other men, including minors. Sharipov dismissed his lawyers from his closed-door trial in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and said he would publicly beg for the forgiveness of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and other ranking officials, whom the journalist had openly criticized in past articles.

Sharipov told one of his recently dismissed lawyers that he was forced to reject legal advisement and profess his guilt out of fear for his safety and that of his mother, according to a report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Aug. 12.

Sharipov was taken into custody on May 26 under Article 120 of the Uzbek Criminal Code: having sex with another man. Currently, gay men have no protections under Uzbek law.

The young activist has never hidden his sexual orientation, but he had asserted that charges of sex with minors were fabricated and brought against him after he was already detained, according to Acacia Shields, the Central Asia researcher with HRW. Shields also said an HRW worker in Tashkent met with Sharipov in late May, when the journalist revealed that police had threatened to sodomize him with a bottle.

“These additional charges appear to be an attempt to play on prejudices about gay men and to discourage the international community from speaking out in defense of Sharipov,” said Elizabeth Andersen, HRW’s executive director. “This is not the time to be silent.”

Last week, Sharipov suddenly changed his story.

“The statements he [Sharipov] made on Aug. 8 are certainly grounds for concern,” Shields told the Network. “To do such an about-face, from denying the charges and arranging for lawyers to suddenly saying he’ll admit to all charges, ask for forgiveness from the president and dismiss his lawyers, certainly suggests coercion.”

Article 120 has been on the books since the Soviet era, perhaps going as far back as the Stalinist 1930s. It is defined as “consensual satisfaction of the sexual needs of one man with another man.” HRW has called for the immediate release of Sharipov and a complete retraction of this law, calling it highly discriminatory.

According to Amnesty International (AI), Sharipov’s case isn’t unique: Torture is widespread in Uzbekistan. In late 2002, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture stated that coercion through pain is systematic in the country, according to an AI report from June.

“Members of the Uzbek human rights community fear that Ruslan Sharipov will be subjected to further ill treatment and torture in detention, both by law enforcement officials and by other prisoners, because of his outspoken criticisms of the authorities and also because he is openly gay,” the AI statement read. “Amnesty International is therefore concerned that a trial against him might not follow international standards of fair trial.”

If charged, Sharipov faces up to three years in prison under the antiquated law.

“In cases where police could charge a person under Article 120, they don’t generally go to trial. Police usually simply bribe gay men under the threat of charging them with this article,” Shields said. “We think this case has gone this far because Ruslan is a human rights activist, and the government of Uzbekistan is always looking for something or some area in which a dissident is vulnerable. They found it.”

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