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Uzbek Activist Freed After 12 Years In Prison Over Andijon Massacre

Uzbek oppositionist Isroiljon Xoldorov (left) and rights lawyer Saidjahon Zaynobiddinov on February 22.

Isroiljon Xoldorov, an Uzbek opposition politician and human rights activist who was imprisoned over the 2005 Andijon massacre, has been released after almost 12 years behind bars.

Rights advocate Saidjahon Zaynobiddinov told RFE/RL that Xoldorov was released on February 21 and has rejoined his family in his native Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan.

Xoldorov, chief of the opposition Erk (Freedom) party's branch in Andijon, was a key source of information about the bloodshed in Andijon on May 13, 2005, when security forces shot dead scores -- or hundreds, by some accounts -- of antigovernment protesters and then tried to cover up the massacre.

The killings came after weeks of peaceful protests in Andijon against the jailing of 23 businessmen whom the Uzbek government, under then-President Islam Karimov, accused of being Islamic extemists. The demonstrators said they were being victimized for their political views.

Uzbek authorities put the death toll at 187 and said most of those killed were either armed terrorists or had been killed by terrorists. The massacre caused an international outcry and led to European Union sanctions, which have since been eased.

Xoldorov was arrested in 2006, convicted of plotting activities against the constitutional order and illegal border-crossing. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Xoldorov's sentence was prolonged twice while he was in prison.

After his release on February 21, Xoldorov expressed gratitude to President Shavkat Mirziyoev and to domestic and international human rights organizations for contributing to his release.

Several public figures, journalists, and politicians jailed on politically motivated charges have been released since Mirziyoev came to power following Karimov's death in 2016.