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A court in Uzbekistan’s Andijan province released human rights defender Gulbahor Turaeva on parole, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 12, an appeals court commuted her six-year prison term, handed down by a lower court in April, to a six-year suspended sentence.

“We are enormously relieved that Gulbahor Turaeva is with her family and her four children again,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “She should never have been jailed in the first place.”

On April 24, Turaeva was tried and convicted on politically motivated charges of so-called anti-constitutional activities, slander, and producing and spreading materials that threaten public order. Two weeks later, on May 7, Turaeva was convicted on additional slander charges in a second trial and sanctioned with a fine in addition to her prison term.

The charges in the first trial were based on allegations that Turaeva had brought into Uzbekistan a number of books by exiled opposition leader Muhammed Solih that are unofficially prohibited by the Uzbek authorities.

The Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs information agency (Jahon) published a statement claiming all the proceedings brought against Turaeva had been within the law. The statement also included some of Turaeva’s testimony to the appeals court, in which she “confessed” to her “crimes,” renounced work she had done as a human rights defender, and denounced her colleagues.

“The authorities insist that Turaeva’s prosecution had no political motivation, but the references in the statement to her human rights work and affiliations belie this,” said Cartner. “We’re more convinced than ever that she was prosecuted and imprisoned unjustly.”

In addition to her suspended sentence and three-year probation period, Turaeva was ordered to pay a fine of 648,000 som (about US$515). Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the terms of Turaeva’s probation.

At least 13 other human rights defenders remain in custody in Uzbekistan on politically motivated charges ranging from “anti-state activities” and slander to extortion.

“We urge the Uzbek government to free them at once,” said Cartner. “And we call on Uzbekistan’s international partners to demand their unconditional release.”

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