A court in Uzbekistan has reportedly sentenced an ethnic Armenian man to 14 years in prison for alleged links with Islamist militants strongly denied by him.
Aramayis Avakian, a 33-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan who lived in the eastern town of Jizak, was arrested in September and subsequently charged with promoting religious extremism and plotting to overthrow the government.According to his family, Uzbek authorities based the accusation on a text message sent to his friend’s relatives as well as the fact that he sported a beard at the time of his arrest.
Avakian’s mother and Muslim Uzbek wife have insisted that he is a Christian and could not have had any ties with Islamist militants. They as well as Avakian’s defense lawyer have said that Uzbek secret police officers brutally tortured him in custody while trying to extract a false confession from him.
The relatives claim that Avakian, who built a fish farm near Jizak two years ago, was arrested just days after the town’s mayor, Sabir Karshibayev, threatened to have him jailed after failing to illegally seize his business.
In the words of Avakian’s Armenian-born mother Flora Sakunts, he and several other men were sentenced in a short trial held in the absence of their lawyers on Monday. “My son’s lawyer called me today and said that they held a secret trial in the prison and sentenced all of them to 14 years,” she said. The lawyer did not even receive a copy of the verdict, added Sakunts.
A Central Asian state ruled by the authoritarian President Islam Karimov ever since the Soviet collapse, Uzbekistan is notorious for its poor human rights record. According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, “the Uzbek government has imprisoned thousands of people on politically motivated charges to enforce its repressive rule, targeting human rights and opposition activists, journalists, religious believers, artists, and other perceived critics.”
Although Avakian is not an Armenian citizen, some officials in Armenia have expressed concern about his fate. Late last year, Karen Andreasian, the then Armenian human rights ombudsman, and Elinar Vartanian, the chairwoman of an Armenian parliament committee on human rights, wrote to relevant Uzbek officials, urging them to intervene in the controversial case. The appeals clearly fell on deaf ears.
“Uzbekistan is a dictatorship that constantly suppresses its citizens,” Ulugbek Ashur, an exiled Uzbek journalist living in Canada, told RFE/RL. “The Armenian state can move the case to the international arena and raise Aramayis’s plight with influential human rights organizations. That’s the only way to save Aramayis.”