Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov freed after 18 years in prison
In a welcome development from Uzbekistan, journalist and newspaper editor Muhammad Bekjanov was released on 22nd February after spending 18 years in detention. Bekjanov was originally arrested in 1999 during a government crackdown on dissidents in the aftermath of the Tashkent bombings. Prior to his arrest, he was the editor of Erk (Freedom) and frequently used his position to speak out about politically sensitive issues in Uzbekistan. After fleeing to Ukraine, he was extradited and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his alleged complicity in the bombings, work on a banned newspaper and attempts to overthrow the government. In 2012, months before his release, Bekjanov was sentenced to a further four years and eight months in prison for breaking prison rules. In 2013, Reporters Without Borders awarded Bekjanov the Press Freedom Prize.
There is credible evidence to suggest that Bejanov was mistreated during his detention and subjected to torture. In a statement, CIVICUS Monitor Partner, International Partnership for Human Rights along with six other CSOs, commented on the condition of his health:
'Bekjanov has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment in prison and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time. In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks.'
Often cited as one of the world's longest-held journalists, Bekjanov's release has been viewed by some as an indication of improving conditions for political dissidents in Uzbekistan. However, many other human rights defenders, journalists and political dissidents remain in the hands of the Uzbek authorities.
Though he is free now, Bekjanov is banned from traveling outside the country for one year and will be unable to join his family in the United States of America during this period.