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Uzbekistan Lifts Parole Restrictions On Journalist Bekjon

Journalist Tells Of Torture In Uzbek Jail
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WATCH: Journalist Tells Of Torture In Uzbek Jail (originally published March 9, 2017)

Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjon says authorities have lifted parole restrictions previously placed on him, one year after his release from almost 18 years behind bars.

Bekjon, 64, told RFE/RL on February 26 that he is now eligible to get an official registration in Tashkent in order to claim his confiscated house back, to file papers for a state pension, and to travel abroad.

He said that he will now try to get an Uzbek exit visa and visit his children, who are living in the United States.

"I have not seen my children for 19 years. If I properly get the exit visa, I will start working on filing papers to be ready to visit them," Bekjon said.

He added that he is currently living with his wife, Nina Bekjon, who returned from the United States to Uzbekistan.

Bekjon, who was widely seen as a political prisoner, was released from prison on February 22, 2017.

The Reporters Without Borders nongovernmental organization had listed Bekjon as "one of the world's longest-held journalists."

Bekjon was editor in chief of the opposition Erk (Freedom) newspaper until he was forced to flee abroad in 1994. The newspaper was published by the opposition Erk party led by Bekjon's brother, Muhammad Solih. Solih had to flee Uzbekistan for Azerbaijan in 1993 and later settled in Turkey.

In 1999, Bekjon was kidnapped in Kyiv and brought to Tashkent, where he was convicted of being involved in an alleged terrorist attack targeting then-President Islam Karimov. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a term that was later reduced by three years.

Bekjon denied the allegations and denounced them as politically motivated.

In 2011, just months before his release, his prison term was prolonged by almost five years for alleged "violations of the penal colony's regulations." His relatives feared that his prison term would be prolonged again.

Uzbek strongman Karimov died in 2016. His successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoev, has been releasing political prisoners as part of a policy of gradually reducing authoritarian control in the county.