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Uzbek authorities say jailed gay journalist will not be pardoned

December 29, 2003

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Uzbek authorities said Monday that a gay journalist jailed in a case that drew international criticism was ineligible for a wide-ranging amnesty declared by President Islam Karimov this month.

The chief of staff of the prisons system, Mikhail Gurevich, said Ruslan Sharipov could not be pardoned because his crime was grave.

The amnesty covers those convicted of r minor crimes, women sentenced for the first time and elderly, minor and foreign convicts.

Surat Ikramov, a human rights activist and one of Sharipov's defenders, said the decision was "unacceptable" and that the amnesty should apply because an appeals court had cleared Sharipov of the most serious of the three charges on which he was convicted in August.

Sharipov, who is openly gay, was convicted of sodomy, having sex with minors and involving minors into anti-social behavior and sentenced to 5 ½ years. An appeals court overturned the last charge and reduced the jail term to four years.

His case has drawn much attention from international media and human rights groups who say he was persecuted for his criticism of the government.

In an interview from prison last month Sharipov said had been forced to confess through torture and threats.

A pardon for Sharipov also has been sought by the United States, which has dramatically increased its engagement with this former Soviet republic after deploying troops in Uzbekistan to back up anti-terror operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan has long been internationally criticized for its poor human rights record, including putting more than 6,000 political prisoners in jails where dozens of people have reportedly died of torture over the past half-decade. –Sapa-AP

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