Nineteen years after being imprisoned on anti-state charges, a journalist in Uzbekistan was finally released on Sunday in what is being widely regarded as a triumph for human-rights activists around the world.
Yusuf Ruzimuradov, now 64, became the longest-jailed journalist after he was jailed in 1999 on charges of working for a banned newspaper - Erk - which was regarded to be anti-government. The editor of the newspaper - Muhammad Bekjanov - was also arrested at the time in what was seen by many as clamping down on journalistic freedom and on freedom of speech. In the nearly two decades since the arrests, human-rights groups have worked relentlessly to secure the release of Ruzimuradov but without much success. Success though finally came last week.
UK's Independent quoted Steve Swerdlow of New York-based Human Rights Watch as saying that the release from prison of Ruzimuradov was historic. "Today, we can breathe a sigh of relief that Yusuf Ruzimuradov – the longest imprisoned journalist in the world – has finally been released in Uzbekistan, but we remain outraged at the grave injustice that robbed him of 19 years of his life." Organisations like Human Rights Watch are indeed taking a pause to rejoice Ruzimuradov's release but are aware that their fight has to continue.
The continuing fight in Uzbekistan stems from the fact that while the country's president has only now reduced the validity of confessions taken under torture, there are still journalists in the country who are behind bars. Two such journalists go on trial on Monday after they were all set to be released as well. At the last moment, it has been learnt, their sentences were extended. Tales of such instances are quite common in Uzbekistan - a country from where several journalists have fled after citing a threat to their lives. In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Uzbekistan was ranked 169 out of 180 nations for its poor treatment of journalists. "Discontent with complete control over the traditional media, the authorities have steadily tightened their grip on the Internet in recent years, blocking access not only to independent news websites but also, more recently, to censorship circumvention tools and many instant messaging apps," read the report.
In the same report, Sweden ranked at the top while North Korea fared the worst at rank 180. India was placed at rank 136.