Uzbek journalist pleads guilty to sodomy charges

BY admin

August 11 2003 11:00 PM ET

An Uzbek journalist charged with sodomy has pleaded guilty at his closed trial and dismissed his lawyers, according to rights activists who alleged Monday that his actions were the result of pressure from the authorities. Ruslan Sharipov said at a hearing Friday that he was ready to admit his guilt on all charges and apologize to President Islam Karimov and other officials for criticizing them in his articles, according to Surat Ikramov, an activist who has been helping defend Sharipov in court. Sharipov dismissed Ikramov and his lawyer, Ravil Gayazov, and also requested that his mother not be allowed to attend hearings. Sharipov earlier maintained his innocence and said the case against him was fabricated. The trial began July 16.

Sharipov, 25, a journalist who leads an independent civil rights group that focuses on protecting media freedom, was arrested May 26 and accused of having sex with another man, having sex with minors, and running a brothel.

Sharipov, who is openly gay, faces up to three years in prison if convicted under a Soviet-era law banning sodomy that is still part of the Uzbek criminal code. If found guilty on the other charges, Sharipov could face another five years.

International human rights groups have strongly protested Sharipov's arrest, calling it politically motivated persecution. A Human Rights Watch researcher in Uzbekistan, Matilda Bogner, said Monday
that she believes authorities either tortured Sharipov or threatened him with torture to make him plead guilty. Sharipov said in earlier letters from prison that he had been under heavy psychological pressure.

Ikramov said that Sharipov told his lawyers after Friday's hearing that he had been forced to give up attempts to defend himself out of consideration for his own security and the security of his mother and lawyers.

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