Human Rights Watch has called on Uzbekistan's government to release a journalist who was critical of the government and jailed after being convicted of homosexuality and having sex with minors. Ruslan Sharipov, 25, "is in prison for speaking out against government corruption and human rights abuses," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "His continued imprisonment is a disgrace."
The New York City-based organization also urged Uzbek authorities to repeal a law against homosexuality that was used to imprison Sharipov, who is openly gay. Sharipov was convicted in August of sodomy, having sex with minors, and involving minors in antisocial behavior. He was sentenced to 5 1/2 years. An appeals court overturned the last charge and reduced the jail term to four years. His case has drawn much attention from international media and human rights groups that say he was persecuted for his criticism of the government.
Human Rights Watch said that last month it submitted a petition signed by more than 650 people from around the world to Uzbek president Islam Karimov, calling for the repeal of the sodomy article in the Uzbek criminal code. "This is a Stalin-era sodomy law that provides a means to retaliate against dissenters, to invade the privacy and dignity of adults, and to promote invidious discrimination and hatred," Denber said. "Sharipov's case shows how easily sodomy laws can be used to stigmatize and repress activists."
In an interview from prison last year Sharipov claimed he had been forced to confess through torture
and threats. Last November the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers awarded Ruslan Sharipov the 2004 Golden Pen of Freedom and urged officials to release him. A pardon for Sharipov also has been sought by the United States, which has dramatically increased its engagement with this former Soviet republic after deploying troops in Uzbekistan to back up antiterror operations in neighboring Afghanistan.