Uzbekistan: journalist reunited with family in US after 18 years in prison

Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjon spent almost 18 years in an Uzbek prison (file photo)

TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan’s journalist Muhammad Bekjon has reunited with his family in the United States more than a year after being released by the government of the Central Asian nation, where he had spent almost 18 years behind bars, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported.

Bekjon was greeted at the airport in the U.S. city of Seattle on July 16 by his grandchildren and daughters, who had not seen him since he was jailed in 1999.

The 64-year-old journalist, who was widely seen as a political prisoner, was released from prison in February 2017 and Uzbek authorities granted him an exit visa to allow him to travel to the United States over the weekend.

Bekjon had previously told RFE/RL that he would only be staying temporarily and ruled out applying for asylum in the United States, where most of his family has settled.

Reporters Without Borders had listed Bekjon as “one of the world’s longest-held journalists.”

Bekjon was editor in chief of the opposition Erk (Freedom) newspaper until he fled abroad in 1994. The newspaper was run by the opposition Erk political party led by Bekjon’s brother, Muhammad Solih, who fled Uzbekistan for Azerbaijan in 1993 and later settled in Turkey.

In 1999, Bekjon was kidnapped in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and brought to Tashkent, where he was convicted of being involved in an alleged terrorist attack targeting then President Islam Karimov. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a term that was later reduced by three years.

Bekjon denied the allegations and denounced them as politically motivated.

In 2011, just months before his release, his prison term was prolonged by almost five years for alleged “violations of the penal colony’s regulations.” His relatives feared that his prison term would be prolonged again.

Uzbek strongman Karimov died in 2016. His successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoev, has been releasing political prisoners as part of a policy of gradually reducing authoritarian control in the country.

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Times of Central Asia