The United States has expressed concerns over the fate of independent Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, who was extradited to Tashkent from Kyrgyzstan last month.
In a September 5 statement, the U.S. State Department said the extradition of Abdullaev, who had been enrolled in a journalism program at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, was "based on vague and unsubstantiated charges."
"Although Mr. Abdullaev was released after he arrived in Uzbekistan and was allowed to travel to be with his family outside the capital, his current status is unclear. The United States calls on the government of Uzbekistan to clarify the allegations against him as well as the next steps," the statement said.
It urged Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and his government "to respect the right to freedom of expression, for members of the media as well as Mr. Abdullaev, and allow him to travel to any location of his choosing."
The statement also said that the United States is concerned by allegations that Abdullaev was tortured while in custody in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, "as well as by the Kyrgyz Republic’s decision to extradite [Abdullaev] to Uzbekistan, despite its non-refoulement obligations."
Non-refoulement is the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers back to countries in which they are likely to be subjected to persecution.
The State Department also called on Kyrgyzstan to release the journalist and let him depart to a country of his choice.
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on August 22 that Abdullaev was extradited to Uzbekistan “in accordance with international law."
It said the Uzbek government provided Kyrgyzstan assurances that Abdullaev would not be ill-treated or tortured.
Upon arrival in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, Abdullaev was released after visiting the Security Committee,his lawyer told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.
Sergei Mayorov said his client was released to his sister’s house but was barred from traveling inside or outside Uzbekistan pending a full investigation and further questioning.
Uzbekistan has not specified the exact nature of the charges against the 47-year-old independent journalist.
Media reports in Uzbekistan suggest Abdullaev is being sought in connection with social-media posts critical of Mirziyoev that were written under the pen name Qora Mergan (Black Shooter).
Abdullaev has denied that he has any connection to the writings.
Abdullaev's treatment has previously been the focus of rights groups after he and three other men were arrested in 2017 in Tashkent. They were charged with calling for a change to Uzbekistan's constitutional order by force.
Those charges stemmed from a series of articles under the byline Usman Haqnazarov, which was apparently used by more than one person.
Abdullaev also denied guilt at the time, saying he was doing his job as a journalist.
In May 2018, Abdullaev was convicted on charges of producing "anti-government propaganda." But he was cleared of the more serious charge of conspiracy against the state -- and was then released.
Kyrgyz authorities detained Abdullaev in Bishkek on August 9 and held him in a detention center pending a decision on Uzbekistan's extradition request.
Abdullaev studied for four months at Bishkek's American University of Central Asia and has been stuck in Kyrgyzstan due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Prior to that, the journalist had lived in Germany for several months at the invitation of the media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Seven foreign-based human rights groups, including RSF, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), had appealed to the Kyrgyz authorities to release Abdullayev out of concern he could face abuse in Uzbekistan.