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Uzbek Court Rejects Appeal of Imprisoned RFE/RL Correspondent

(Prague, Czech Republic–September 20, 2005) The Appellate Court in Namangan, Uzbekistan on September 19 rejected an appeal by imprisoned RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Nosir Zokirov, who has been serving a six-month prison sentence for insulting a member of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service. After appearing before the court, he was taken back to prison. The panel of appellate judges took 15 minutes to reach their decision, ignoring protests by Zokirov’s defense counsel that the August 26 trial lacked legality on several counts — including the fact that defense witnesses were not heard and Zokirov had no legal representation.

RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine said, “It was a kangaroo court then and it is a kangaroo court now. The decision on the appeal confirms that the current Uzbek justice system stands outside internationally accepted legal norms.” Dine added, “the imprisonment of Nosir Zokirov on such an absurd charge marks a new low in an intensifying campaign waged against him and other RFE/RL correspondents, as well as other international media that tried to report the truth about the Andijon massacre.”

Zokirov was sentenced under Article 140 of the Uzbek criminal code, which makes it a criminal offense to insult a member of the security forces. The complaint was based on an angry phone call Zokirov made to security police in Namangan on August 6, in which Zokirov protested attempts to pressure a local poet, Khaidarali Komilov to lie about an interview he gave Zokirov that was broadcast in early August.

For the past several months, Zokirov, who has filed news reports with RFE/RL for eight years, has been targeted by local media that have published slanderous and untruthful articles about his family and lifestyle, as well as his work for RFE/RL. The campaign against Zokirov intensified after the bloody suppression of an uprising in Andijon in mid-May and after the Uzbek Service broadcast an interview by Zokirov with local poet Khaidarali Komilov, who criticized the Uzbek government’s handling of the Andijon uprising. Zokirov was summoned several times to the local police station because of his reporting; at one point, service to his home and mobile phones was cut off.

Dine noted that at least eight other native Uzbek correspondents for RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service have been subject to harassment by Uzbek state authorities (updated chronology available).