An openly gay Uzbek journalist was convicted Wednesday at a closed trial in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on sodomy charges that human rights groups say are politically motivated. A Tashkent district court found Ruslan Sharipov guilty of having sex with another man, having sex with minors, and running a brothel and sentenced him to 5 1/2 years in jail, according to Human Rights Watch researcher in Uzbekistan Matilda Bogner, quoting Sharipov's mother, Aza Sharipova. Sharipova was the only outside observer to be allowed in the courtroom when the judge read the final part of the verdict, which announces the punishment. Sharipov pleaded guilty and dismissed his lawyers at a hearing last week.
International human rights groups have said Sharipov's arrest in May was politically motivated. Sharipov leads an independent media rights group.
Bogner said Wednesday that Sharipov's conviction shows that "justice isn't served in Uzbekistan and the judiciary isn't independent."
Also on Wednesday, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission called for the immediate release of Sharipov and the dismissal of all charges against him, noting that there is a serious danger that he is being mistreated in custody. The group, based in San Francisco, said Sharipov had told people who had visited him in jail that he had been subjected to "continued and escalating beatings, threats of sexual violence, and verbal abuse."
The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders also has expressed deep concern over Sharipov's case and demanded that the case against him be dropped. "Everything indicates that Sharipov was arrested on false and sordid pretenses designed to rid the authorities of a bothersome, dissident voice," the group's secretary general, Robert Menard, said in a letter to Uzbek president Islam Karimov.
On Tuesday New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Sharipov's immediate release and raised concerns that he had been tortured to confess to the accusations.
A U.N. envoy who visited Uzbekistan last year concluded that torture is systematically used in the Central Asian nation's prisons.
Sharipov, 25, had earlier maintained his innocence, saying the case against him was fabricated. His trial began July 23. International rights groups say Uzbekistan's authoritarian government often employs fabricated criminal charges to silence dissent.
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