A court in Tashkent convicted Umida Niyazova, a human rights activist of distributing Islamic extremist propaganda, and sentenced her to seven years in prison May 1. Niyazova, who was a translator for based Human Rights Watch and wrote for independent online publications, was convicted after a two-day trial that journalists and international monitors were prohibited from attending. Amnesty International calls her a prisoner of conscience.
Niyazova was briefly detained in December, and her laptop computer, papers and passport were confiscated. She fled to Kyrgyzstan, then returned to Uzbekistan after being told by her attroney that the criminal investigation against her had been closed. However, she was re-arrested, however, and charged with illegal border crossing and smuggling materials supporting a religious group called Akramiya that Uzbek authorities have branded as extremist and blamed for the violence two years ago at Andijan.
At the trial, Niyazova said she was only guilty of illegally crossing the border when she was trying to escape arrest, according to Berg, who was brought in as a witness. Niyazova asked the judge to suspend the sentence so she could care for her 1-year-old son.
“Umida was a woman who dared to raise her voice while Uzbek men keep silence,” her aunt, Shafoat Niyazova, said through tears after the verdict was read.
Gulbahor Turayeva, another rights advocate who claimed she had counted 500 dead bodies in an Andijan schoolyard on the morning after the violence, was also sentenced last week to six years in prison for anti-government activity and possession of banned literature. Uzbek courts have convicted about 250 as organizers of the revolt. (NYT, AP, Asia News, May 3)