Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now welcomes the release of human rights activist Akzam Turgunov from prison in Uzbekistan. Turgunov was arrested in July 2008 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on extortion charges. He was released on October 7, approximately nine months before the expiration of his sentence.
“After nearly a decade in prison on charges designed to end his human rights activism, Akzam Turgunov is finally free,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Akzam is the third political prisoner released by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the past week. However, in the same time period authorities arrested journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev and dissident Nurullo Otahonov on politically motivated charges. The continued imprisonment of individuals for exercising their fundamental freedoms undermines what appear to be steps by President Mirziyoyev to renew Uzbekistan’s commitment to human rights. We urge the government to drop charges against Abdullaev and Otahonov as well as immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners in the country, including Aramais Avakyan, Gaybullo Jalilov, and Dilmurod Saidov.”
Prior to his detention, Turgunov was one of Uzbekistan’s most prominent human rights activists. He was the founder of the NGO Mazlum (“The Oppressed”), a human rights organization that advocates on behalf of prisoners of conscience and protests against the use of torture. He also served as Director of the Tashkent section of Erk (“Freedom”), a political opposition party.
In his capacity as a human rights activist, Turgunov worked as a public advocate in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan in northwestern Uzbekistan. His work in the region focused on investigating corruption by local officials, including a case involving police in the town of Manget. Turgunov was arrested on extortion charges in Manget on July 11, 2008, by the very police department he was investigating for corruption.
Following his arrest, Uzbek officials searched Turgunov’s home in Tashkent, where they seized political materials. They then held Turgunov incommunicado for 18 days, during which time an officer reportedly poured boiling water down his back, causing him to lose consciousness, and suffer severe burns. Though he revealed his burn marks in open court, the judge accepted as fact statements made by the police that they had not tortured him. During the trial the judge denied Turgunov and his attorney an opportunity to examine the evidence against him or to cross-examine the government’s witness against him.
Despite these serious flaws in the court proceedings, on October 10, 2008, the court sentenced Turgunov to 10 years in prison. The Board of Appeals of the Karakalpakstan Supreme Court affirmed his sentence on December 11, 2008, after a 15 minute hearing.
Freedom Now has represented Turgunov as his international pro bono legal counsel since July 2009. In November 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Turgunov’s detention to be in violation of international law and called for his immediate release.