Uzbek Rights Defender Mamathonov Released After Eight Years In Prison

A prominent Uzbek human rights advocate, Ganihon Mamathonov, has been released after spending eight years in prison.

Speaking to RFE/RL shortly after his release on October 16, Mamathonov described his regained freedom as a "dream."

"I absolutely can't believe that I was freed. It is like a dream," he said in a telephone interview.

"I thought that I will waste all my life in prison. I never thought that there were still people who fought for my release. I want to dedicate the rest of life serving the people of this country," he added.

Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Central Asia researcher Steve Swerdlow welcomed Mamathonov's release in a post on Twitter.

"Getting amazing news from Uzbekistan," Swerdlow wrote, adding that Mamathonov had been released after eight "long" years.

Mamathonov, 65, is one of several people whom activists consider political prisoners who have been freed from prison since President Shavkat Mirziyoev took office after longtime autocrat Islam Karimov's death in 2016.

Mamathonov was sentenced to five years in prison in 2009 on fraud and bribery charges supporters contended were unfounded and politically motivated.

Just days before his prison term was ending in 2014, Mamathonov's term was prolonged by two years for alleged "violation of prison regulations."

In 2016, another two years were added to Mamathonov's prison term, also for alleged "violation of the penitentiary's regulations."

HRW said in mid-August that five political prisoners had been freed since Mirziyoev, the longtime prime minister under Karimov, became acting president after Karimov's death was announced in September 2016.

Mirziyoev was subsequently elected in a tightly controlled vote in the Central Asian country of about 30 million in December.

Another U.S.-based human rights advocacy group, Freedom House, said in an August 28 report that Mirziyoev had taken some steps to open up the country.

It said the international community "should acknowledge positive changes in the country but continue nudging the government toward a full-scale reform to ensure a prosperous, secure, and pluralistic Uzbekistan."