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Uzbek Writer Freed After 14-Year Custody

  • RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Mamadali Mahmudov in an undated photo

Mamadali Mahmudov in an undated photo

Mamadali Mahmudov, a renowned Uzbek writer once seen as a potential rival to the country's entrenched president, has been released after spending 14 years in penal custody.

He was convicted for involvement in an alleged plot to kill the president, Islam Karimov.

Mahmudov's wife, Gulsara Mahmudova, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that her husband was "tired" and resting at home following his surprise release late on April 19.

Mahmudov, 72, finished serving the 14-year sentence in February and was transferred from a labor camp to a detention center in Tashkent.

But Mahmudova told RFE/RL last month that her husband was facing a possible extension of his prison term for having allegedly violated prison regulations.

'Terrible Injustice'

It remains unclear what prompted Mahmudov’s release.

Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow said he welcomed Mahmudov’s release.

"It's hard, I think, for anyone to imagine 14 years of their life being stolen from them, and having to spend 14 years in the conditions that we know exist in Uzbekistan's prisons," Swerdlow said. "But every single day that Mamadali Mahmudov has spent in prison was a terrible injustice."

The freeing of Mahmudov comes ahead of a visit to Tashkent next week by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake.

True Test

Swerdlow said that during that visit, Blake should call on the Uzbek leadership to free all political prisoners and allow them to freely exercise their freedom of expression.

"The real test for the Uzbek government will be whether it allows someone like Mamadali Mahmudov or other political prisoners that are released from prison to actually return to civil society and speak freely and speak critically about their concerns in Uzbekistan," Swerdlow said.

Mahmudov authored popular books and was once seen as a serious challenger to Karimov.

He planned to run in Uzbekistan's 1991 presidential election but his candidacy was rejected.

He was sentenced to prison in 1999 for alleged involvement in an assassination attempt against Karimov.
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