Ruslan Sharipov, a U.S.-based Uzbek dissident and the only openly gay Uzbek journalist, says he is “disappointed with American democracy” and wants to return home.
In an open letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the U.S.-educated, award-winning journalist pleaded with the president to allow him to go back to Uzbekistan to “escape threats, persecution, physical abuse, isolation, and humiliation” he claims he has faced in the United States.
“I have no friends in the United States and I miss home,” wrote the 32-year-old journalist and gay rights activist.
In the ex-Soviet country, where homosexuality is frowned upon by the predominantly Muslim society, Sharipov had caused quite a stir for being openly gay.
With international funding, he set up a project to protect gay rights in Uzbekistan.
However, the project was short-lived, as Sharipov was sentenced to five years in prison on sodomy charges in 2003 -- although the journalist claimed he was punished for being an outspoken critic of Karimov’s regime.
Sharipov’s arrest was given extensive media coverage by international rights groups, who said the “opponent of the regime” had been singled out for punishment because of his “personal magnetism” and his ability to attract many followers.
After allegations of torture in prisons and under pressure from rights groups, Uzbek authorities set Sharipov free in 2004 and he triumphantly left for the United States leaving behind the regime he despised.
Sharipov has talked about his fondness for U.S. pizza, the Gap store, and a way of life where people could enjoy freedom regardless of their sexual orientation.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing.
In his 2007 interview
with Ferghana.ru, Sharipov said he was briefly arrested for illegally crossing into Mexico.
Sharipov said he hadn't been given a U.S. Green Card or permanent residency and that he has been assaulted and threatened by the police and others.
Sharipov said that he was “deeply disappointed with U.S. leaders
, George Bush, and Barack Obama alike" and had asked Human Rights Watch to purchase him plane tickets to Sweden, a request rejected by the rights watchdog.
“There is no longer freedom in the United States,” said Sharipov in his open letter to Uzbek leaders and asked them to pay for his return ticket to Tashkent.
-- Farangis Najibullah