Source AP ©

Jailed activist gets new prison term

Uzbekistanian authorities have denied that a jailed human rights activist has been handed a new prison term for defamation.

Gulbakhor Turayeva's husband Farid Yangildin told media and rights groups last week that a court in the eastern city of Andijan had sentenced her to five years and eight months after convicting her of defamation for challenging the official death toll in a May 2005 uprising there.

Turayeva, who was sentenced last month to six years in prison on a separate conviction of anti-government activity and possession of banned literature, had claimed she saw some 500 bodies heaped in an Andijan schoolyard the day after government troops cracked down on the protesters. Authorities put the death toll at 187.

The Uzbek Embassy in London said reports about a new jail term were "based on doubtful facts" and were attempted "to damage the image of Uzbekistan."

In a Web-posted statement on Sunday, the Embassy said the court did convict Turayeva of defamation on May 7, but fined her US$500 (370 EUR) and did not sentence her to additional prison time.

Yangildin could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday; nor could Uzbek authorities.

President Islam Karimov's government claimed Islamic militants fomented the Andijan uprising. Survivors and rights groups said hundreds of people were killed when government troops opened fire on the crowd of mostly unarmed protesters.

Reviewing the sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan following the Andijan violence, the European Union said Monday that it would drop a visa ban against four of 12 Uzbek officials currently subject to the ban, but would leave other measures in place.

Since the uprising, at least 15 Uzbek rights defenders have been assaulted, forced to undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment or jailed on charges they called trumped-up.

Turayeva was arrested in January.

Karimov, a former Communist functionary, has ruled the Central Asian state of 26 million since before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, suppressing opposition and silencing dissident voices.