Uzbekistan frees top opposition leader: Relative

Last Updated: Sunday, November 8, 2009 - 23:05

Tashkent: The jailed leader of ex-Soviet Uzbekistan`s political opposition has been unexpectedly released from prison, a relative said on Sunday.
Sanjar Umarov, head of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition movement, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison in 2006 by an Uzbek court for supposedly heading a criminal organisation and various economic crimes.

"Sanjar Umarov was released on Saturday. He is now feeling well. We are very glad," Nodira Hidoyatova, Umarov`s sister-in-law and political confidante said.

Details of the decision remain unclear and Hidoyatova declined to comment further, but the move comes after Brussels dropped the last of its long-standing sanctions against Tashkent, drawing the ire of rights groups.

Last month the EU lifted an arms embargo put in place after Tashkent`s refusal for an international probe into the killings of civilians during an armed uprising in the eastern province of Andijan in 2005.

Sunshine Uzbekistan was founded in 2004 and called on the United States to press for political reforms in Uzbekistan, considered one of Central Asia`s most authoritarian regimes.

But the group was best known for its vocal criticism of the government`s handling of the Andijan uprising, leading to speculation that his conviction was punishment for his political activities.

Umarov has always denied the charges against him and his case was condemned by international organisations, including the European Union, which expressed deep concern over the jailing of Umarov and other opposition figures.

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First Published: Sunday, November 8, 2009 - 23:05

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