Murod Juraev, one of the world’s longest-serving political prisoners, has been released by the Uzbek authorities. His release comes ten days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the country.
Juraev, now 62, was released on November 12 after 21 years of imprisonment. Human rights groups say his 1994 arrest was politically motivated and that his sentence was extended arbitrarily several times. Supporters and family say Juraev was subjected to crippling torture while in prison. In a press release, Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow said, “The last 21 years have been a living hell that Murod Juraev and his family should never have had to experience.”
A former parliamentarian, Juraev was a member of the now-banned political party, Erk (Freedom). In 1994 he was arrested in Kazakhstan and extradited to Uzbekistan. The next year he was convicted of several crimes, including “high treason,” “conspiracy with a purpose of seizure of power,” and “calls for violent overthrow of constitutional order or forcible violation of the unity of the territory of the Republic of Uzbekistan.”
In a report released last year detailing torture in Uzbekistan, HRW wrote that Juraev was “badly in need of medical attention”:
Juraev’s wife met with him in October 2013 and told a rights activist that he has lost all of his teeth, has trouble eating, suffers from constant headaches and stomach pain, and experiences periodic numbness in his right arm. Juraev also experiences high blood pressure that causes him to lose consciousness. Moreover, in spite of his poor health, he is subjected to daily heavy labor by working in a brick factory and complains of severe lower-back pain…”
Last year, Surat Ikramov, an Uzbek human rights activist, was allowed to visit Juraev in prison. He later told RFE/RL that “Juraev had no teeth and that he looked like a broken man.”
Juraev’s original sentence of 12 years was extended four times, in 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012, for “violation of prison rules.” One of the more absurd “violations” was that Juraev had incorrectly peeled carrots. HRW says that in each instance the extension of Juraev’s term came shortly before he was to be released.
It is not clear that Juraev’s case was discussed directly by Kerry while he was traveling the region. Noticeably, while in Uzbekistan Kerry used the euphemism “human dimension” rather than “human rights.” Kerry did mention “human rights” in other venues, for example, featuring the issue in his speech at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. In the past, U.S. officials have lobbied Central Asia’s autocrats — in private — for the release of specific prisoners thought to be in particularly at risk.
Nine human rights groups, including HRW, released a statement announcing Juraev’s release and pressing Uzbekistan to investigate reports of torture and arbitrary detention, and release scores of political prisoners.