March 5, 2018 / 3:36 PM / 9 months ago

Uzbek journalist to stand trial over articles

ALMATY, March 5 (Reuters) - An Uzbek journalist will go on trial this week on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, in the first prosecution of a leading dissident since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power promising reforms.

Bobomurod Abdullayev denies the charge. His lawyer said last week the writer has been tortured in custody - though prosecutors said they were unaware of the accusations.

Abdullayev, 44, is accused of publishing - under the pen name Usman Haknazarov - stories criticising the government on a website run by exiled opposition politicians. Under his real name, he is best known as a sports reporter.

Stories with Haknazarov’s byline have been appearing for about 14 years, long before President Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 promising to liberalise the tightly-controlled former Soviet republic.

Abdullayev was detained in September by the SNB state security service. Last weekend, Abdullayev’s lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said his client had been tortured in detention.

Mayorov said in a statement Abdullayev had been beaten, deprived of sleep and put in solitary confinement. Mayorov told Reuters on Sunday that Abdullayev planned to plead not guilty and would repeat the torture accusations in court.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s office said it was unaware of Mayorov’s statement and there was no immediate comment from the SNB.

Mirziyoyev sacked the once-powerful SNB chairman, Rustam Inoyatov, in January and has accused the security service of abusing its powers.

Abdullayev’s trial was initially set to start on Monday. But court officials told relatives, human rights activists, diplomats and reporters gathered outside that the hearings would start on Wednesday instead.

Also on trial is an Uzbek blogger - accused of receiving cash from an exiled politician - and two men accused of passing sensitive information to Abdullayev. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The four men face up to 20 years in prison each. (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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