The French-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and four other international human rights organizations condemned the arrest of journalist and human rights activist Aziz Yusupov.
According to the organization’s statement, Aziz Yusupov is a human rights activist, freelance journalist and former political prisoner.
Yusupov’s arrest took place shortly before the OSCE Human Dimension Conference in Warsaw, which human rights groups say indicates the desire of the Uzbek authorities to prevent his speech. During the conference, they claimed, “Yusupov intended to provide independent information on the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.”
“The arrest of Aziz Yusupov casts doubt on the assurances of the Uzbek government about the progress of successful human rights reforms in the country,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the international human rights organization International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR).
On September 23, Yusupov took the invitation sent to him to participate in the conference to the Polish Embassy and submitted an application for a visa. On September 25, he was summoned to the Department of Internal Affairs, and upon learning that he had applied for a Polish visa to travel to a conference on the human dimension, Yusupov was arrested. The Fergana Criminal Court authorized his pre-trial detention on charges of drug possession, which is punishable by up to five years in prison under article 276 of the Uzbek Criminal Code.
Aziz Yusupov denies the charges against him. Human rights organizations that have issued a statement in his defense believe Yusupov’s case was fabricated in order to punish him for his human rights activities.
“The Yusupov case shows that the Uzbek authorities have resumed the practice of using trumped-up charges against human rights defenders. Once again, we see human rights defenders accused of criminal offenses aimed at discrediting them and obstructing their legitimate activities,” said Berit Lindeman, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC).
According to the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, in recent years, Aziz Yusupov has been monitoring the situation of prisoners in Uzbekistan, especially vulnerable groups such as women and children, and providing them with assistance. In the last year alone, Yusupov conducted 20 interviews with prisoners and former prisoners, including those serving political sentences and victims of torture.
In the 90s of the last century, Aziz Yusupov’s family moved to Uzbekistan from neighboring Tajikistan, when a civil war broke out in that country. Aziz Yusupov is the younger brother of Farrukh Yusupov (Yusufi), who worked for Radio Ozodlik for many years and wrote critical materials about the Uzbek authorities. In addition, Farrukh Yusupov participated in investigative activities in the case of corrupt deals involving companies controlled by the daughter of the former President of Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova.
In 2016, Aziz Yusupov was arrested on charges of drug possession and unfairly sentenced to eight years. At the time, human rights organizations reported that Yusupov had been tortured in custody, and the only evidence against him was his written confession of guilt, knocked out during interrogations. Aziz Yusupov was recognized by international human rights organizations as a political prisoner. Under international pressure, he was released from prison on parole in early February 2019 due to poor health. In freedom, he had to undergo several courses of treatment.
The Uzbek authorities have not yet commented on the arrest of Aziz Yusupov.