Muhammad Bekjanov, Erk
Imprisoned:March 15, 1999
Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Erk
Imprisoned:March 15, 1999

Bekjanov, editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, and Ruzimuradov, a reporter for the paper, remain the longest-imprisoned journalists worldwide, CPJ research shows. Both journalists were jailed on politicized anti-state charges after they were forcibly returned to the country from Ukraine in 1999.

In September 1999, a Tashkent court convicted the two of publishing and distributing a banned newspaper. Both were also convicted of participating in a banned political protest and attempting to overthrow the regime. Bekjanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison and Ruzimuradov was sentenced to 15 years.

The journalists were beaten before their trial began, according to CPJ sources and news reports. After the verdict was announced in November 1999, Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov were jailed in penal colonies for individuals convicted of serious crimes.

In January 2012, shortly before Bekjanov was scheduled to be released, authorities sentenced him to an additional five years in prison, citing the violation of unspecified prison rules, regional press reports said. The independent news website Uznews reported that Bekjanov was being held in a prison in the southwestern Navoi region in late 2014.

In a September 2014 report on political prisoners in Uzbekistan, the international organization Human Rights Watch said Ruzimuradov was being held in Tavaksay prison colony outside Tashkent. Human Rights Watch said that Ruzimuradov was due to be released in May 2014, but that authorities extended his sentence for an undisclosed period because of unspecified violations of prison rules.

According to a petition published at the online platform Avaaz in December 2014, Ruzimuradov's initial prison term was to expire in 2014 but authorities kept him in custody after sentencing him to an additional three years. CPJ was unable to verify the information.

Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov were detained in Ukraine, where they had been publishing their newspaper in exile. They were extradited at the request of Uzbek authorities. In 2014, Human Rights Watch issued a report on Uzbekistan in which it cited the first public testimony by Bekjanov's family, who said the journalists had been kidnapped from Ukraine and brought back to Uzbekistan.

Nina Bekjanova, the editor's wife, told reporters that she found his health had deteriorated when she visited him in prison in March 2013. Bekjanova said her husband needed immediate treatment for a hernia and a relapse of tuberculosis, according to Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She said the editor had not complained about his health to her during her previous visits, but that during this visit he had said, "There's not much longer left [for me] to suffer."

Bekjanova told Uznews that authorities did not obstruct her October 2014 visit to the prison as they had in the past. She said prison authorities had stopped her husband from performing labor at the prison's brick-making facility due to his age.

On November 24, 2014, eight U.S. senators sent a public letter to President Islam Karimov calling on him to release the journalists on humanitarian grounds.

International press freedom and human rights groups continue to advocate on behalf of the journalists, and publicly asked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to urge Uzbekistan to free them during his June 2015 visit to the country. According to the transcript, Ban told local journalists that he discussed human rights concerns during his meeting with Karimov and urged him to continue improving Uzbekistan's human rights record.

In October 2015, CPJ called on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to demand the release of Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov during his visit to the country.

Despite repeated calls to the Uzbekistan Embassy in Washington, CPJ was unable to determine any updates in the journalists' cases in late 2015 or determine Ruzimuradov's health. Bekjanov's daughter, Aygul Bekjan,told CPJ in November that a relative visited her father in jail in August and said he was in good health.

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