WASHINGTON -- A court in Uzbekistan today sentenced the brother of an RFE/RL journalist to eight years in prison on drug-related charges, the latest government action involving persons affiliated with the media company's Uzbek Service.
In court proceedings, Aziz Yusupov was represented by a lawyer assigned to him by Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (formerly the KGB), whom Yusupov's family said persuaded him to make a false confession to mollify the court. During the one-day trial, no evidence was brought against Yusupov to corroborate the charges.
“This has all the signs of an attempt by the government to intimidate RFE/RL journalists because of their uncensored reporting in Uzbekistan," said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “We vigorously condemn any attempt to silence us.”
Yusupov told RFE/RL that the charges brought against him were changed several times during the series of interrogations that preceded the trial in order to increase the severity of the sentence he could serve.
Yusupov was targeted in an earlier incident in March 2013, when state security agents confiscated his state-issued ID, computer, and other personal documents, citing his brother's work for RFE/RL and an interview Yusupov gave to its Uzbek Service. During their interrogations of Yusupov, Uzbek agents accused RFE/RL of slandering Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan frequently brings narcotics-related charges against political activists and critics. In 2008, Uzbek Service contributor Salijan Abdurahmanov was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of drug smuggling that the OSCE characterized as “made-up,” adding that the trial “did not withstand the scrutiny of a fair procedure.”
In another incident this week, agents with Uzbekistan’s National Security Service seized an apartment in Tashkent owned by the director of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.
Uzbekistan authorities have interrogated the family members of other RFE/RL employees in recent months about their relatives’ journalistic work. On at least four occasions, family members of Uzbek Service correspondents have also been denied exit visas, a Soviet practice still required in Uzbekistan, to leave the country.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service relies on constant innovation and a wide network of local sources to report news and engage with audiences in one of the world’s most closed societies. RFE/RL was forced by the Uzbek government to close its bureau in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, after reporting on the 2005 government killing of protesters in the city of Andijon. Despite government efforts to block access, the Service’s website averages more than 2 million visits per month, and its video reports are viewed more than 4 million times per month on YouTube.