A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced a Muslim blogger to seven and a half years in prison for what many people do every day: posting an innocuous message on Facebook.
On January 26, the Almazar District Criminal Court in Tashkent found Muslim blogger and government spokesperson Fazilhoja Arifhojaev guilty of threatening public safety by reposting and commenting on a social media post that asked if it was appropriate for a Muslim to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious holidays.
Arifhojaev was originally arrested at the end of June last year on small charges of hooliganism and sentenced to 15 days in detention. Instead of releasing him at the end of his sentence, authorities charged him under article 244-1, part 3 (d) of the penal code for “distributing or displaying documents containing a threat to public security and public order using the media or telecommunications, or the Internet”. ”
Over the years, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous instances where Article 244-1 has been used to criminalize peaceful dissent and freedom of religion and belief in Uzbekistan, and has repeatedly called on authorities to change the provisions of the penal code relating to extremism, including article 244.-1 and 244-2.
Arifhojaev’s health deteriorated during his seven months in pretrial detention. On January 25, he went on a four-day hunger strike to protest the injustice in his case, his lawyer Sergey Mayorov said. Mayorov also told Human Rights Watch that police abused his client both physically and psychologically in pretrial detention, in some cases subjecting him to treatment that amounted to torture. In late September, according to Mayorov, police handcuffed Arifhojaev to a pipe and made him sit in a stressful position for nearly 12 hours, causing him excruciating pain. To date, authorities have failed to investigate his allegations of ill-treatment and torture.
Arifhojaev plans to appeal his conviction.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke of creating a “new Uzbekistan” when he was re-elected last year, but if prosecutions like Arifhojaev’s take place, it’s still a long way off. Uzbekistan’s international partners should urge Mirziyoyev’s government to honor its freedom of expression commitments and secure Arifhojaev’s immediate release. Jailing someone for a Facebook post is not the way for such a vision to come true.