Jailed Uzbek journalist claims early release won't allow freedom of movement
A gay Uzbek journalist jailed on sex charges in a case that has been internationally condemned as politically motivated said Monday that authorities won't grant him complete freedom to travel after his expected early release.
Ruslan Sharipov, speaking by telephone from the minimum-security prison in Tashkent where he is being held, told the Associated Press that government officials had made his aunt sign documents promising he would live with her after his release. "It's house arrest, just changing names," he said. He also said he had been repeatedly harassed and assaulted in recent months while allowed out to sleep at relatives' homes under the loosened terms of his confinement. "They are making it every day worse and worse," Sharipov said.
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. On Monday, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders issued a renewed plea for his release.
Sharipov was convicted in August 2003 of sodomy, having sex with minors, and involving minors in antisocial 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. Sharipov has said he was tortured in custody and forced to plead guilty, and he denies the charges.
The Foreign Ministry said in March that Sharipov could be freed last Friday, under a presidential amnesty that would further reduce his sentence. A group of supporters gathered outside the prison where he is being held Saturday, expecting him to go free. But prison officials said they had up to a month under Uzbek law to convene a parole commission and have a court decide his fate. However, Sharipov said he was summoned Sunday to appear without notice before the parole commission, which recommended changing the terms of his confinement at a hearing that lasted less than five minutes.
Sharipov said under the expected terms of his release, he would also be required to pay a portion of his salary to the government. It wasn't known when a court would convene to approve the arrangement.
Since the gathering at the prison, Sharipov said authorities also aren't allowing him to sleep at his aunt's house as he had previously done. Still, he said he is allowed to leave the prison for lunch and dinner.