In the late evening of April 19, 2013, the award-winning Uzbek writer Mamadali Makhmudov, 72, walked out of prison after 14 years, and met his five grandchildren for the first time. PEN has been campaigning for Makhmudov’s freedom from the outset, alongside that of other Uzbek writers and journalists. Today there are at least ten others thought to still be detained in the country.  While welcoming Makhmudov’s liberation, PEN calls for the release of all those detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression and for an end to the widespread censorship in Uzbekistan.

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Background Information

Makhmudov had been held since February 1999, convicted on charges of involvement in a series of bombings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. There was little evidence to back this up and human rights groups in Uzbekistan and around the world rose to his defense. When he appeared in court in August 1999, Makhmudov testified about the inhumane treatment he was subjected to in prison, including beatings and electroshock torture. He also told of how female members of his family had been threatened with rape. Reports of torture in Uzbekistan, particularly in the late 1990s, were rife, and accounts from prisons such as his were common.

Makhmudov‘s sentence expired in February of this year, but he was not freed. Instead he was taken to from the Chirchik Labour Camp to a detention center in Tashkent. On April 8, he was sentenced to three years additional imprisonment for breaking prison regulations. He had appealed against this new sentence and was waiting for the response when he was unexpectedly released.

Makhmudov is a celebrated writer. In the early 1980s his novel, Eternal Mountains, was published to critical acclaim. An historical fiction of the events of the Russian occupation of Central Asia in the 1800s, the book won him Uzbekistan’s prestigious Cholpan Award. Makhmudov rebelled against the censors in his writing, and helped lay the foundation for Uzbek national self-awareness in the late Soviet period. In 1991, encouraged by the fall of the Iron Curtain, he joined a number of other writers and intellectuals to form the Erk party led by another writer, Muhammad Salih, who stood for president in that year’s elections. Official figures stated that Erk won 12 percent of the votes, yet the party contests this, saying it got over 50 percent. Since 1993, the party and its newspaper have effectively been banned and Salih forced into exile. Erk supporters were frequently targeted for arrest and harassment.

Makhmudov himself was first arrested between in 1994 and 1996. Then, in February 1999, a series of bombs exploded in Tashkent, an apparent assassination attempt against President Karimov. The authorities were quick to accuse Muhamad Salih in absentia, and his supporters were arrested, among them Makhumudov and several others writers, including journalists and contributors to the Erk newspaper, Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov. Makhmudov was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while Bekjanov and Ruzimuradov each received 15 years. Bekjanov's sentence was reduced to 12 years and he should have been freed in 2011, but was instead given a five year sentence extension, apparently for breaking unspecified prison rules. Bekjanov is not due to be freed until 2016 or 2017. Little has been heard from Ruzimuradov in recent years.

The most likely reason for Makhmudov's surprise release at this point in time is the news that on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, Uzbekistan will come before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, as part of its Universal Periodic Review process. It will be required to show how far it has met its obligations to uphold human rights, and will be questioned by other UN member states.

Mamadali Mahmudov is a recipient of the 2001 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Write A Letter

  • Welcoming the release of Mamadali Makhmudov;
  • Calling for the release of all imprisoned writer and journalists;
  • Urging Uzbek authorities to end media censorship so as to uphold Article 29 of the Uzbekistan Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

Send Your Letter To

President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Islam A. Karimov
Rezidentsyia prezidenta
Ul. Uzbekistaniskaya 43
Fax: +998 71 139 53 25

General Procurator of Uzbekistan
Rashidzhon Kodirov
Prokuratura Respubliki Uzbekistan
Ul. Gulyamova 66
Tashkent 700047
Fax: +9981 71 133 39 17/133 73 68
Email:[email protected]

Also send copies to the Uzbek embassy in your country.

***Please check with us if sending your appeal after May 31, 2013 ***