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Yusuf Juma in a cotton field in Bukhara with his youngest son, in October 2004
"Yusuf is going to die."

That’s how Gulnora Juma, the wife of jailed Uzbek poet and political activist Yusuf Juma, summarized Juma’s plight at a recent discussion on Capitol Hill jointly sponsored by Freedom House and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Yusuf Juma, who is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Uzbekistan for “organizing an illegal gathering” to protest the rule of Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov, is regularly subjected to brutal treatment, according to his wife.

She catalogued a litany of abuses.

Uzbek prison officials have broken her husband's ribs, she said, and knocked his teeth out, making eating almost impossible; their regular torture regimen includes placing him in a chemical “box” for long stretches of time; and they have repeatedly broken his fingers in order to prevent him from doing that which most threatens the regime -- writing his widely acclaimed poetry.

It could be worse. Karimov's regime is known in the past to have boiled political prisoners alive.

According to Catherine Cosman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Juma is just one of 5,000 prisoners of conscience in the ex-Soviet republic. A 2003 UN report highlighted the Karimov regime's malefactions, including the deaths of several political prisoners while in detention.

The Karimov regime, Gulnora Juma said, regularly allows their daughter Feruza to visit her father and report on his worsening condition, apparently in order to send a message to other would-be dissidents.

Since the 2005 government massacre of hundreds of protesters in the Uzbek city of Andijon, the Karimov regime has steadily tightened the noose on human rights, evicting or silencing most of the country’s civic activists and rights advocates. One of the last such advocates, Abdulsalam Ergashev, spoke at the June 23 Capitol Hill event via Skype from a location in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley.

Ergashev noted that since 2005, "any person confronted by the [Uzbek] police is tortured."

Despite official disavowals, Ergashev said, torture is the systemic policy of the Uzbek state. He warned that as a consequence of the government's crackdown, international NGOs have been pulling out of Uzbekistan, forcing local civil rights defenders into a delicate and precarious position within the country.

-- Charles Dameron
Police detained at least five people at the unsanctioned gay rights rally near the Hermitage Museum in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg on June 26.
Russian gay rights activists have gathered at St. Petersburg's world-famous Hermitage Museum for a brief unsanctioned rally that ended with a police raid and at least five detentions.

The three dozen or so protesters held their protest in the inner courtyard of the museum, where they unfurled banners and chanted slogans in front of tourists queuing up for tickets.

One of the banners read "Peter the First was bisexual."

"We chanted: 'Same-sex marriages without compromise,' 'Equality for gays and lesbians,' 'Homophobia is a national shame,' and 'Homophobia is a disease,'" Maria Yefremenkovo, the rally's organizer, told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "One young man treated us as pederasts, others just watched with some dismay and a few smiled."

Using similar tactics to a gay rights protest in Moscow last month, organizers only revealed the location of the demonstration at the last moment to outwit riot police.

They say the subterfuge was needed to avoid a repeat of the violence that has marred previous attempts to hold Gay Pride parades, when police, nationalists, and ultra-Orthodox believers beat protesters.

The June 26 rally was nonetheless quickly broken up by police and five activists were briefly detained, including Yefremenkovo.

Homosexuality could be punished with prison in Soviet times. Russia has since decriminalized homosexuality but intolerance remains very widespread, with nationalists and ultra-Orthodox believers saying homosexuals should be punished or treated in hospital.

Polls have shown more than 80 percent of Russians regard homosexuality as immoral.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has described gay rallies as satanic and vowed not to allow them in his city.

written by Claire Bigg based on RFE/RL's Russian Service and wire reports

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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