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Prison time cut for Uzbek journalist

Prison time cut for Uzbek journalist

An Uzbek appeals court reduced the sentence Thursday of a gay journalist convicted of having homosexual sex, from 5 1/2 years to four years, in a case that has drawn international criticism from human rights groups. Ruslan Sharipov was convicted last month of having homosexual sex--illegal in Uzbekistan under laws still on the books from Soviet times--and also of having sex with minors and attracting minors to antisocial activity. In a closed hearing the Uzbek city court removed the last charge against Sharipov and reduced his sentence, said Surat Ikramov, a human rights activist who is on Sharipov's defense team. The journalist still plans to appeal his case to Uzbekistan's high court, Ikramov said. At his trial, Sharipov maintained his innocence but then abruptly pleaded guilty and dismissed his lawyers. In a letter to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, he alleged that he had been tortured into confessing his guilt and that police forced him to write a suicide note and threatened to kill him if he fought the charges. A U.N. envoy visited Uzbekistan last year after strong international pressure, led by the United States, which has become a strategic partner of the Central Asian nation in the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The envoy found "systematic" evidence of torture in Uzbek prisons. The Uzbek government is working on a response to the U.N. envoy and has acknowledged some cases of torture but denied the problem is as widespread as the report claimed. The Sharipov case has drawn the attention of international media and human rights groups who say authorities brought the charges because of the journalist's criticism of the government.

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