ALMATY (Reuters) - An Uzbek dissident who was detained this week on return from exile has been charged with two public security crimes that each carry a possible five-year sentence, news website Gazeta.uz quoted police as saying on Thursday.
Nurulloh Muhammad Raufkhon, the first prominent dissident to return to Uzbekistan since the death of its long-time leader Islam Karimov, was detained on arrival on Wednesday, raising questions about the new president’s efforts to change the country’s image.
Doniyor Tashkhojayev, deputy chief of Tashkent police, told local media Raufkhon had been charged in absentia and put on a wanted list after a criminal investigation launched in May.
The charges include making public calls for unconstitutional change of the state order and producing and disseminating materials containing threat to public security and public order. Each is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Raufkhon was in exile in Turkey after publishing in the spring of 2016 a book critical of Karimov who had run the former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 1989.
The authorities then raided Raufkhon’s house and put him on a blacklist of potential extremists and dissidents, which forced him to stay abroad.
Karimov died last September and his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, last month ordered the removal of 16,000 people, including Raufkhon, from the blacklist, as part of a broader liberalisation campaign.
But Raufkhon’s detention and possible conviction could indicate that Uzbekistan’s powerful security apparatus is putting limits on such reforms.
According to privately-owned Gazeta.uz, deputy chief of police Tashkhojayev said police would investigate Raufkhon’s case and also see if his alleged crimes could fall within the scope of an amnesty.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Robin Pomeroy