Washington D.C.: In response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding the detention of fisherman Aramais Avakyan by the Government of Uzbekistan a violation of international law. The Working Group—an independent panel of five human rights experts from around the world—called for Mr. Avakyan’s release.

Prior to his arrest, Mr. Avakyan owned a fish farm in Dzhizakh, Uzbekistan. On September 1, 2015, the town’s mayor, threatened to have Mr. Avakyan imprisoned for his refusal to relinquish the business. Three days later, after Mr. Avakyan and four of his business partners did not return home, their relatives reported them missing. The next day, relatives of two of the missing individuals received text messages from unknown mobile numbers, stating that the men had left to carry out a “jihad.” These texts were allegedly sent despite the fact that Mr. Avakyan is a practicing Christian. In November 2015, authorities finally informed relatives that the men had been detained by authorities the day before the incriminating texts were sent.

Mr. Avakyan was charged with plotting anti-constitutional activities, sabotage, production or dissemination of threatening materials, participation in a religious extremist organization, and theft. Uzbek investigators accused Mr. Avakyan of setting up and leading a group that spread radical Islamic ideology in an attempt to overthrow Uzbekistan’s constitutional order, and further accused the five individuals of planning to join the ISIS. Mr. Avakyan’s family first saw him at a court hearing on January 6, 2016. His hands were bruised; he had visibly suffered significant weight loss, and was barely able to stand. Mr. Avakyan had to be brought to court on a stretcher because he had a broken leg. On February 19, 2016, Mr. Avakyan was sentenced to seven years in prison; his four co-defendants were sentenced to prison terms between five and twelve years.

In its opinion, the Working Group found that the Government of Uzbekistan had committed numerous violations of international law in arresting and detaining Mr. Avakyan, including: torture, denial of a fair trial, and discrimination against a religious minority. In addition to affirming Mr. Avakyan’s right to release, the Working Group stated that he should be compensated and referred his case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

“We welcome the Working Group’s opinion,” said Kate Barth, Legal Director of Freedom Now. “However, Mr. Avakyan’s health continues to deteriorate as he marks nearly 650 days in prison on fabricated charges. We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to respect the Working Group’s opinion, immediately release Mr. Avakyan, and investigate all claims of torture.”

Freedom Now serves as international pro bono legal counsel to Mr. Avakyan.