Case of the Month April 2007: Muhammad Bekzhon (Bekjanov)



 

Journalist Muhammad Bekzhon, better known as ‘Bekjanov’, played a leading role in voicing dissent in Uzbekistan following the dismantlement of the Soviet Union. After President Islam Karimov came to power in 1991, Bekjanov contributed to Erk, the newspaper published by the opposition party, working with his brother Muhammad Salih. Bekjanov continued to voice his criticisms of the government, even after the newspaper was banned in 1994.

 

Because of the crackdown on dissidents, Bekjanov fled to the Ukraine. Accused of being involved in a series of explosions in Tashkent, he was arrested in Kiev on 15 March 1999 and extradited to Uzbekistan. Several other political activists and writers were arrested in connection with these events, and have testified to having been tortured under interrogation including beatings, electric shock and threat of rape of female family members. (Click here for more information).

 

Bekjanov’s brother, Rashid Bekzhon, was arrested alongside him and another brother, Komil Bekzhon, a farmer with no known political connections, disappeared in May 1999. After his imprisonment, Bekjanov’s wife fled to the United States.

 

In August 1999, Bekjanov was sentenced to 15 years in prison, convicted ‘of publishing and distributing a banned newspaper containing slanderous criticism of President Islam Karimov; participating in a banned political protest; and attempting to overthrow the regime. In addition, the court found them guilty of illegally leaving the country and damaging their Uzbek passports.’ After his trial, Bekjanov was reportedly transferred to the ‘strict-regime’ Penal Colony 64/46 in Navoi. More recent information shows that in 2005 he was placed in the Prison Colony 64/62 in Kagan.

 

There have been serious concerns over Bekjanov’s health while in prison. He has lost considerable amounts of weight and suffered from malnutrition. Relatives who visited in early 2001 claim to have been alarmed by his state of health and reported that he required crutches. In 2003, Bekjanov was interviewed for the first since his imprisonment by the Centre for War and Peace Reporting and the Associated Press in the Takshent Prison Hospital where he was receiving treatment for tuberculosis. Bekjanov claimed that he suffered from daily torture and beatings, causing a broken leg and deafness in his right ear.

 

Bekjanov’s case is representative of the continuing constant attacks faced by independent journalists and writers in Uzbekistan. Since the Andijan massacre in May 2005, the crackdown on the media, political opponents and civil society organisations has only intensified with increasing arrests, internments and internet restrictions. In January 2007, the Uzbek law concerning mass media was amended, making it more restrictive and including websites explicitly for the first time.

 

Bekjanov is an Honorary Member of English PEN, Canada PEN and American PEN.

 

Sources include: International and American PEN, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/prisoners/muhammadbekzhonbekjanov/

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