TASHKENT -- Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev has denied plotting to overthrow the government in a high-profile trial that is being seen as a test of President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who has promised to carry out reforms in the Central Asian country.
At his trial in Tashkent on March 29, Abdullaev, who is charged with "conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime," said that he "as a journalist just wanted to share what he knew with others."
"If my articles carried some uncertainty or insulted someone I am ready to be accountable in accordance with the law," Abdullaev said.
If convicted, Abdullaev, a freelance journalist and contributor to the Ferghana news agency and other media outlets, could face up to 20 years in prison.
The trial of Abdullaev, blogger Hayot Hon Nasriddinov, and businessmen Ravshan Salaev and Shavkat Olloyorov is being closely watched by human rights advocates, opposition activists, and journalists as a test of the government’s vow to reform Uzbek society.
They were all arrested in 2017, a year after Mirziyoev took over the country following the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov.
Abdullaev's lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said earlier that his client was tortured into making self-incriminating statements.
The charges against Abdullaev and his co-defendants stem 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 Central Asian country for more than a quarter of a century before his death in 2016.
When asked by the judge, Zafar Nurmatov, on March 29 about the pseudonym, Abdullaev answered that Usmon was the first name of the husband of prominent Uzbek poetess Gulchehra Nurullaeva, whom he considered a "brave and fair person."
"If I had written my articles under my real name I would have been arrested right away and would not have been able to write my other articles. As for the surname Haqnazarov, the words 'haq' [right, true, lawful] and 'nazar' [attention, viewpoint, glance] carried the meaning -- a true standpoint," Abdullaev said.
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 needs to make "sustainable" improvements on human rights.
However, in its latest report released on March 28, HRW stated that journalists and other critics of the government in Uzbekistan remain under pressure from legal restrictions, politically motivated prosecutions, and fear-induced self-censorship.