When a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) went to visit a journalist jailed in Uzbekistan’s southern Karshi region recently, ICRC staff thought they had finally scored a meeting with a political prisoner. Prison officials had been hiding journalist Salijon Abdurahmanov for months, according to a report by the independent Uznews.net.
On one previous ICRC visit to prison camp No 64/61, Abdurahmanov, who worked for Uznews.net before his 2008 arrest, was reportedly taken away and hidden from the inspectors. This time, according to the Uznews.net report, which cites the journalist’s son, prison authorities presented the delegation with an imposter. ICRC has not commented.
This autumn, the journalist’s son, Davron, said, ICRC inspectors came to the prison again, but this time the prison administration arranged a meeting with “a fake Abdurahmanov.”
“Father said that he was driven away in an unknown direction and a different prisoner was brought to the meeting instead, as if he were Salijon Abdurahmanov,” Davron said.
ICRC representatives immediately established that it was someone else before them, the journalist himself told his son at a meeting.
The “fake” journalist said he was Salijon Abdurahmanov, but ICRC members refused to believe him, saying that they had seen a photo of the journalist and have their own view of him.
What could the prison authorities have to hide?
Prior to working for Uznews, Abdurahmanov, 62, had reported for Radio Free Europe. He was arrested in June 2008 – first for possession of drugs and then, when no drugs appeared in his blood, for trying to sell drugs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. “When the Uzbek authorities can’t even substantiate their own bogus charges, they merely bring a more serious indictment to silence critical journalists,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said at the time.
Amnesty International recognizes Abdurahmanov as a prisoner of conscience, and said in 2008 that he was "detained solely for carrying out his human rights activities and exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
The ICRC – which “out of purely humanitarian considerations…visits places of detention in Uzbekistan to assess detainees’ living conditions and treatment” – has long had a testy relationship with the government.
In 2008, a leaked US Embassy cable described a “stalemate” between the two. The ICRC wished to discuss the findings of its prison visits with the government, but, the cable said, “the government of Uzbekistan dismisses these requests, saying that ICRC is welcome to resume prison visits at any time and accusing ICRC of stalling.”