On January 3, Yuldash Rasulov, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), was released from prison under an amnesty announced last month. Rasulov, a human rights defender and practicing Muslim, had been sentenced to seven years in prison in a politically motivated trial in September.
"Rasulov's release is a positive move by the Uzbek authorities and we welcome it," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "He should never have been detained in the first place."
Rasulov, who had helped people persecuted for their religious beliefs and affiliations, was convicted on charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order" and distributing "extremist" literature. The evidence presented against him, however, showed only that he prayed five times a day and had listened to tapes on Islam commonly available in the mid-1990s. Immediately after Rasulov's arrest, the Uzbek authorities had claimed that Rasulov had recruited young men for "terrorist training camps abroad" and for the Taliban. However, the court dropped charges associated with these allegations.
"The Uzbek authorities tried to smear Rasulov as a terrorist to stop international support for his case," said Andersen. "Now we are watching to see what will happen with the other jailed defenders."
Four other members of HRSU remain in prison, after being sentenced in 2002. Tursunbai Utamuratov is serving a four-year sentence on tax fraud charges. Jura Muradov, Norpulat Rajapov and Musulmon Khamraev were sentenced in September to between five and six years in jail on several charges, including "hooliganism" and damage to property. In 1999, Khasanboi Madrakhimov was sentenced to nine years on charges of "anti-constitutional activities."
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of government harassment of human rights activists in Uzbekistan since the early 1990s.