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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 16:18 GMT
Prisoners freed in Uzbek amnesty
Uzbek prisoners
The amnesties began in 1997
Uzbekistan has released more than 3,000 prisoners under a presidential amnesty, including nearly 400 people convicted of anti-constitutional activities.

The releases, announced in December to mark the anniversary of the Uzbek constitution, have been taking place over several weeks.

The Uzbek foreign ministry said those freed included 391 people jailed for what it called crimes against public security and anti-constitutional activity.

Correspondents say these allegations are commonly levelled at members of groups such as the bannned Hezb-e Tahrir, or Islamic Liberation Party, which has called for the creation of a Muslim state in Central Asia.

Human rights groups say that many of those jailed are peaceful dissident Muslims, whom the government sees as political rivals.

We educated them through labour
Zangiota prison official Zikir Khojayev

State-run TV broadcast pictures of relatives greeting their loved ones and weeping for joy. It described the latest annual amnesty as an expression of the "tolerance typical of the East".

According to the Uzbek foreign ministry, nearly 200,000 prisoners have benefited from amnesties since 1997.

Former convicts were shown expressing their gratitude to the government. "I have learnt my lesson. My eyes have now opened," ex-prisoner Bahriddin Abdullayev said on TV.

Mr Abdullayev was freed six years early from a 19-year sentence, later reduced, after being found guilty of membership of an "extremist religious group".


Zikir Khojayev, the deputy head of the Zangiota penal institution in Tashkent region, said some of the releases were the "result of our work on prisoners prone to religious extremism".

"We have been in close cooperation with religious and non-governmental organizations for this purpose. We educated them through labour," he said on Uzbek TV.

In 1999, the capital, Tashkent, was rocked by a series of a blasts which killed 16 people and which the government blamed on Afghan-based insurgents and exiled opposition leaders.

The opposition Amsterdam-based Erkinyurt Association for Democracy in Uzbekistan said on its website that members of Hezb-e Tahrir who refused to abandon their religious views were among those who suffered the most in prison.

The association alleged that torture was employed against them by prison authorities.

The amnesty is not believed to apply to high-profile political prisoners including the journalist and rights activist, Ruslan Sharipov, convicted of homosexuality and having sex with minors, or Muhammad Bekjonov, brother of the exiled opposition leader Mohammad Solih.

Uzbekistan, with a population of more than 25 million people, is estimated to have a prison population of 65,000.

Human rights groups say about 10% of these are held on political or religious grounds.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Country profile: Uzbekistan
01 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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