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Uzbek Banker Released After 19 Years In Prison

  • RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Relatives and rights groups say Rustam Usmonov's imprisonment was politically motivated.

A pioneering Uzbek banker who was widely seen as a political prisoner has been released after serving his 19-year sentence.

Relatives of Rustam Usmonov, 69, told RFE/RL on February 15 that he was released on February 13.

Kyrgyzstan-born Usmonov became the owner of Uzbekistan's first-ever private bank, Rustambank, in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the communist Soviet Union.

He was found guilty of extortion and illegal currency-exchange operations and sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1998.

In 2012, his prison term was prolonged by five years for what the authorities said was "bad behavior while in custody."

He spent the last five years of his sentence in the infamous Jaslik prison in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakistan.

Relatives and rights groups say Usmonov's imprisonment was politically motivated.

In November, organizations including Human Rights Watch and Freedom House called on the government of then-interim President Shavkat Mirziyaev to release him along with several other people they said were "imprisoned on politically motivated charges."

Activists have urged Mirziyaev, who was elected to a five-year term in December, to improve what they say is the tightly controlled Central Asian country's atrocious human rights record.

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