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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK
Confession frees Uzbek activist
Umida Niazova (right) outside the court
Ms Niazova had originally pleaded not guilty to the charges
A court in Uzbekistan has suspended the seven-year jail sentence given last week to an Uzbek human rights worker.

Umida Niazova's sentence was reduced after she confessed to distributing publications threatening public order and criticised her US-based employers.

Ms Niazova said she was disappointed by Human Rights Watch and that its work had "biased and harmed my people".

The new ruling comes just days before the EU considers lifting sanctions imposed after the 2005 Andijan revolt.

The Uzbek government has been heavily criticised by the international community for its crackdown in the eastern city in May 2005.

Human rights activists and journalists say around 500 people, including women and children, were killed when Uzbek troops shot into a crowd of anti-government protestors.

But the Uzbek authorities say only 187 people were killed and that they were either members of the security forces or terrorists.

Confession

Ms Niazova, who wrote a series of stories critical of the authorities' account of the events, was arrested in January after attempting to return to Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan without a passport.

File photograph of some victims of Andijan uprising in Uzbekistan in May 2005
Rights groups dispute the official account of the Andijan uprising

Research material relating to the uprising, deemed "extremist" by the prosecution, was found on her computer.

She initially pleaded not guilty to charges of smuggling, of illegally crossing the Uzbek border and of distributing publications threatening public order, but was convicted last week and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Human Rights Watch said the conviction had been politically motivated and that their employee had done nothing illegal.

The EU also condemned the case and called for an immediate review. It warned the sentence given to Ms Niazova could affect its decision on whether to renew sanctions on 14 May.

At her appeal, however, Ms Niazova changed her plea to guilty and read out a handwritten statement attacking her former HRW colleagues, including Andrea Berg, for whom she had been an interpreter.

"I sincerely regret the crimes I have committed unintentionally, as I was influenced by my environment," she said.

"I'm deeply disappointed by some of the people and international organisations with whom I worked, and our work, Andrea, was biased and harmed my people."

The judge at Tashkent City Court said he would suspend Ms Niazova's sentence because she had confessed and had to support a young child.


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