Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now welcomes the release of human rights defender Azamjon Farmonov and journalist Salijon Abdurakhmanov from wrongful detention.
Farmonov was released on October 3, 2017, after 11 years of wrongful imprisonment. He was arrested in Uzbekistan in April 2006 and sentenced to nine years in prison on extortion charges. In 2015 his sentence was arbitrarily extended for another five years, based on alleged violations of minor prison regulations. Abdurakhmanov was released on October 4. He was arrested in June 2008 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on fabricated drug charges related to his critical reporting.
“The release of these two men is very welcome news. Azamjon Farmonov will finally be reunited with his wife and family after spending more than one-fourth of his life locked away. Salijon Abdurakhamov will be able to provide Uzbekistan with bold, independent journalism that was silenced for nearly a decade,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “We are encouraged by President Mirziyoyev’s actions, but since he came to power nearly a year ago, only eight political prisoners have been released. If Uzbekistan wishes to prove its commitment to human rights it must immediately and unconditionally release the hundreds of political prisoners that remain in the country, including Aramais Avakyan, Gaybullo Jalilov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov.”
Prior to his arrest, Azamjon Farmonov served as Chairman of the Syrdarya region branch of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan where he focused his advocacy on defending farmer’s rights, monitoring trials, and producing informational pamphlets on human rights issues that he shared with other Uzbek human rights organizations and foreign embassies.
On the morning of April 29, 2006, police arrested Farmonov and charged him with extortion. That day authorities searched Farmonov’s apartment on three separate occasions, seizing, among other items, human rights pamphlets. During these raids, investigators struck Farmonov’s pregnant wife, knocking her unconscious.
Following his arrest, Farmonov was held incommunicado for over a week and held in isolation without access to his family for approximately a month. During this time, authorities tortured him in an attempt to force him to make a confession. Farmonov’s trial was plagued with inconsistencies and violations of fair trial standards. The government appointed a lawyer to represent Farmonov; however, his family declined the lawyer’s services after learning that he was allegedly present while authorities tortured Farmonov. On June 15, 2006, the Yangiyer City Criminal Court sentenced Farmonov to nine years in prison. Following his conviction, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch declared Farmonov to be a prisoner of conscience.
As the end of Farmonov’s sentence approached he was accused of a series of minor prison infractions, such as retorting to other prisoners and failing to wear a distinguishing badge. For such alleged insults he was placed in solitary confinement on several occasions for up to twenty days. The prison authorities tortured Farmonov in order to obtain his confession to such alleged infractions by suffocating him with a rubber mask until he passed out and forcing him to listen to the screams of others being tortured as a threat of similar treatment.
On April 25, 2015, Farmonov was charged with “disobeying the legal demands of the administration of a correctional facility.” He was sentenced to an additional five years in prison after a one day trial in which he did not have access to an attorney and was not permitted to introduce exonerating evidence.
As of October 25, 2016, Farmonov was subjected to two further disciplinary remands for infractions of prison regulations. His health continued to worsen in prison; currently his body is covered in pustules the size of walnuts and he experiences pain in his kidney from time to time.
Freedom Now represents Farmonov as his international pro bono counsel. In November 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued Opinion 65/2012, finding Farmonov’s detention to be in violation of international law and calling for his immediate release. Freedom Now recently filed a second petition with the Working Group regarding the charges filed against Farmonov in April 2015 and has filed a petition with the UN Human Rights Committee.
Salijon Abdurakhmanov is an outspoken journalist known for his reporting on social and economic justice, human rights, and corruption. He has written for UzNews, an independent online news agency, and contributed to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Shortly before his arrest, Abdurakhmanov wrote an article criticizing the traffic police in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region in northwestern Uzbekistan.
On June 7, 2008, traffic police arrested Abdurakhmanov when they stopped his car and found marijuana and opium in the trunk. Abdurakhmanov denied knowing about the drugs and believes that they were planted in his car days before in retaliation for his journalistic activities. Authorities initially charged Abdurakhmanov with drug possession. However, when a blood test proved that Abdurakhmanov had not been using drugs, investigators charged him with selling drugs, a more serious charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Abdurakhmanov’s arrest and trial were plagued by irregularities. Investigators failed to carry out basic investigative steps such as checking the drugs for fingerprints. At trial, the chief witness for the prosecution, a drug dog specialist who was involved in Abdurahmanov’s arrest, admitted that his dog had not reacted to the car and could not explain why he called for reinforcements during the arrest. This testimony was corroborated by video of the arrest. Despite the lack of evidence, on October 10, 2008, Abdurakhmanov was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Harassment of Abdurakhmanov and his legal team did not cease after his imprisonment. In 2009, two of Abdurakhmanov’s lawyers, including his brother, lost their legal licenses. Additionally, Abdurakhmanov has been found guilty of violating his terms of detention several times.
Freedom Now represents Abdurakhmanov as his international pro bono legal counsel. Since his imprisonment, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to secure his release, including filing a petition with the UN Human Rights Committee and coordinating a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel from members of the Bundestag.