Muhammad Bekzhon (Bekjanov)

English PEN were pleased to learn that our Honorary Member Muhammad Bekzhon (Bekjanov) was reportedly released on the expiry of his sentence in March 2011. 

Journalist Muhammad Bekzhon (Bekjanov) was arrested in March 1999, having been deported from Ukraine on accusation of involvement in a series of explosions in Tashkent.  It was thought that his arrest was linked to his association with the exiled opposition leader Muhammad Salih and that the charges were linked to his work on Erk,
the opposition party’s newspaper, despite it having been banned since 1994.

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 him guilty of illegally leaving the country and
damaging his Uzbek passport.’ The sentence was reduced to 12 years after evidence pointing to his innocence surfaced in 2003.

There were serious concerns over
Bekjanov’s health during his detention, where he reportedly 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 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. In October 2006, he wife was allowed to
visit him and she reported that Bekzhon still suffered from beatings and
had lost most of his teeth. Concern for his health remained acute throughout his detention.

Bekjanov was an Honorary Member of English PEN, Canada PEN, American PEN

Whilst we warmly welcome his release, we nevertheless remain deeply concerned about several other cases detained in violation of their right to free expression in Uzbekistan, in particular for our Honorary Members  Mamadali Makhmudov and Djamshid Karimov.

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