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Uzbek court rejects journalist's plea

Uzbek court rejects journalist's plea

An Uzbek appeals court rejected a plea Tuesday by a gay journalist to be freed on bail while his case is being reconsidered, after his defense claimed that pressure by authorities is making it impossible to freely discuss the case with their client while he is in prison. Ruslan Sharipov was sentenced last month to 5 1/2 years in jail for having sex with a man, having sex with minors, and running a brothel. He pleaded guilty and dismissed his lawyers at the trial after earlier maintaining that he was innocent and the case fabricated. In a letter earlier this month to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, Sharipov wrote that he had been tortured in jail and coerced to plead guilty and that he had also been forced to write a suicide note declaring that killing himself was his own choice. "I was clearly told that if I would write any further appeals or complaints, I would commit suicide, that is, I would 'kill myself,"' Sharipov wrote in the letter, released by human rights activists. Sharipov wrote that police chose forms of torture that wouldn't leave marks on his body, such as placing a gas mask on his head and spraying an unknown substance inside that hindered breathing. He also said he was threatened with being injected with HIV. During a visit last year, a U.N. special envoy found evidence of "systematic" torture in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek government has acknowledged individual cases but denied that torture is as widespread as the U.N. report claimed. During Tuesday's hearing, journalists and diplomats from the British, French, German, and Dutch embassies were asked to leave the courtroom by Judge Shagiaz Sharakhmetov, who said the hearing at the Tashkent city court was closed. Surat Ikramov, a human rights activist on Sharipov's defense team, said they made the bail request because Sharipov is suffering from tuberculosis and heart problems and because lawyers are finding it difficult to communicate with Sharipov due to obstacles being thrown up by prison authorities.

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