New York, NY, September 25, 2003—PEN American Center is expressing serious alarm over reports that Uzbek journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov appeared at an appeal hearing today with suspicious facial injuries — and that despite defense requests for an adjournment, the Court confirmed a four-year prison sentence in what PEN believes is a move to silence a fierce critic of the Karimov government.

“The prosecution of Ruslan Sharipov is the most urgent and disturbing case PEN is following internationally,” said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center, in a statement released today. “His arrest in May on homosexual conduct and sex-with-minors charges came after months of harassment for his outspoken writings, and amid an accelerating crackdown on critical voices. In two harrowing letters, the most recent of which Human Rights Watch received last week, Sharipov described the array of physical and psychological tortures he has been subjected to in detention and expressed serious fears for his safety. He specifically requested not to be transported to his appeal hearing, for fear he might be abused in transit.”

“The reports that he appeared in court today with a cut above his eye and broken glasses is therefore extremely disturbing, as is the report that officials ascribed the injuries to a minor vehicle accident on the way to court — an accident in which only Sharipov allegedly sustained injuries.”

Uzbekistan’s use of torture has been well-documented by international human rights organizations, as is its accelerating campaign of intimidation, arrests, and physical attacks on independent journalists and human rights activists. On August 28, Surat Ikramov, a well-known human rights activist and Sharipov’s public defender, was kidnapped by masked, camouflaged men and severely beaten. Referring to that attack in his September 17, 2003 open letter to Human Rights Watch, Sharipov wrote, “after what happened to Surat Ikramov, who until that point had defended my interests, I understood that they were not kidding and would do everything which they had threatened to do to me, my family, and my lawyers.”

PEN believes Ruslan Sharipov’s prosecution is a direct result of his writings criticizing Uzbekistan’s human rights record, and harbors deep fears for his safety in detention.

Larry Siems,(212) 334-1660, ext. 105