Uzbekistan frees its ‘longest-held political prisoner’

TASHKENT (TCA) — Jailed Uzbek politician Samandar Kokonov has been released from prison after more than 23 years behind bars.

His family members told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that they received a phone call early on November 24 from the prison authorities, who told them an October court ruling that prolonged Kokonov’s jail term had been annulled.

Kokonov, 72, a former parliament member, was expected to be released on October 6 after serving his 23-year sentence on embezzlement charges.

However, the family was told on October 30 that Kokonov’s prison term had earlier been prolonged by another three years and five days due to “violation of the penitentiary’s internal regulations.”

Kokonov, dubbed by his supporters “Uzbekistan’s longest-held political prisoner,” was arrested in July 1993. His supporters say that the embezzlement case against him was politically motivated.

Kokonov’s colleagues believed he was convicted by order of Uzbekistan’s first President Islam Karimov, who died this past September, the Fergana information agency reports.

In 1994 Kokonov was sentenced to 20 years in jail. The time he had spent in pretrial detention was not counted as served.

In 2014, Kokonov’s prison term was prolonged to three more years and later cut by two years.

Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter that Kokonov’s release following public calls by the U.S. State Department was proof that “pressure works.”

Sergey Kwan