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Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev left court a free man on May 7.

TASHKENT -- A jailed Uzbek journalist whose trial has been watched closely by human rights groups was convicted of calling for the government's overthrow but walked out of court a free man.

In a May 7 decision, the Tashkent city court found Bobomurod Abdullaev guilty of using the media to call for the removal of the government.

It ordered him to pay 20 percent of his monthly salary to the state for three years, and freed him on the spot.

The court also ordered an investigation into allegations by his lawyers and human rights groups that Abdullaev had been tortured during his detention.

The high-profile trial was seen as a test for the new government of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has promised to carry out reforms in the Central Asian state since he came to power following the death of longtime ruler Islam Karimov in 2016.

"I am extremely glad that I have come out of there alive," Abdullaev told reporters after the ruling. "I thank Shavkat Mirziyoev and the court."

Amnesty International called the ruling "a glimmer of hope for the country's beleaguered journalists," and urged more steps to guarantee freedom of expression.

"Bobomurod Abdullaev has already paid a terrible price for his independent journalism, spending seven months in Uzbekistan's most notorious detention center where he was allegedly tortured to confess to trumped-up charges," Denis Krivosheyev, Amnesty's deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement on May 7.

Three co-defendants -- blogger Hayot Hon Nasriddinov and businessmen Ravshan Salaev and Shavkat Olloyorov -- were acquitted and also left the courtroom on their own accord.

The charges against Abdullaev and his co-defendants stemmed from a series of articles under the byline Usman Haqnazarov, which has been used by more than one person.

The articles touched on issues related to circles close to Karimov, who ruled the country of more than 30 million people with an iron hand for more than a quarter-century.

Abdullaev was arrested in September 2017. He denied guilt, saying that he was doing his job as a journalist.

In February, 12 human rights groups called for Abdullaev's immediate release and an independent investigation of allegations that he was tortured.

Mirziyoev has carried out reforms in the government, particularly in the powerful security services and Interior Ministry.

In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Uzbek authorities had taken "some positive steps" during Mirziyoev's first year but still needed to make "sustainable" improvements on human rights.

In a report released on March 28, HRW stated that journalists and other critics of the government in Uzbekistan remained under pressure from legal restrictions, politically motivated prosecutions, and fear-induced self-censorship.

Aramais Avakyan and his son

Uzbek authorities have transferred a man who was convicted of Islamic extremism in a high-profile trial from a Tashkent prison to a less-strict facility.

Rights activist Oktam Pardaev told RFE/RL that Aramais Avakian had been moved to a colony settlement in his native region of Jizzax in eastern Uzbekistan on May 4.

Pardaev also said that Avakian had been informed by officials that he will be released in two months.

A colony settlement is a penitentiary in which convicts live close to a factory or farm where they work.

Avakian, a 36-year-old ethnic Armenian and a Christian by faith, was convicted of extremism in February 2016 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Four other men charged in the case were sentenced to prison terms of between 5 1/2 and 12 years. Avakian, who was arrested in September 2015, was the only defendant who pleaded not guilty.

All five were accused of plotting to carry out "anticonstitutional activities" in mostly Muslim Uzbekistan and of being sympathizers of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, among other charges.

Avakian's relatives say local authorities in Paxtakor district trumped up the charges against him in order to take over his fish farm.

Avakian's lawyer, Olim Qobilov, was arrested in March 2016 and was later convicted of bribery and extortion and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released in June 2016 without any public explanation.

Uzbek and international rights organizations have demanded the release of Avakian and the other four men, saying that they were convicted on trumped-up charges and that their rights had been violated while in custody.

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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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