Politics

Political Prisoner Juraev Released After 21 Years in Uzbek Prison

One of the world's longest-serving political prisoners has been freed from a prison in Uzbekistan, after serving 21 years behind bars, nine human rights groups said on Wednesday.

Murod Juraev—described by the groups as a "peaceful activist"—was a member of the Uzbek parliament from 1991 to 1992 but was given a nine-year sentence in 1994 for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Reuters reports. He is now 63 and has served more than twice the length of his original sentence.

Juraev, who was a member of Uzbekistan's first political party, called the Erk (Freedom) party at the time, had his original sentence extended by a further 12 years for alleged violations of prison rules, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports. During this time, HRW says he was repeatedly tortured and became seriously ill.

His release follows U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan at the beginning of November. Kerry held talks with Karimov— whose country's human rights record is frequently compared with North Korea—as part of a tour of to secure the U.S.'s engagement in the ex-Soviet Central Asia region.

Kerry spent more than an hour with Karimov's government, the New York Times newspaper reported at the time, but it is unknown if he specifically spoke about Juraev.

All nine human rights groups—including Amnesty International and Christians' Action for the Abolition of Torture—have called for Uzbek authorities to investigate credible allegations of Juraev's torture, allegations that his sentence was arbitrarily extended and that he was denied appropriate medical care in prison.

Nadejda Atayeva, the President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, told HRW: "Juraev's family and local activists had the courage to campaign for his freedom for many years at great personal risk."

She added: "It is now of the utmost importance for Uzbekistan's international partners to be willing to do the same to prevent the ongoing arbitrary detention of many people who have been punished simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression."

Muhammad Bekjanov—a prominent journalist and former editor-in-chief of the banned Erk political opposition party newspaper ERK—was sentenced in 1999 to spend 16 years in Uzbekistan's Kagan prison in the Bukhara region. When he was due to be released in 2012, his sentence was extended for allegedly disobeying prison rules. He is one of the longest serving political activists in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan's prisons service did not confirm whether Juraev had been freed, saying such information was confidential. The Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

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