A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced an ethnic Armenian man to seven years in prison after controversially convicting him on a string of charges including Islamic extremism.
The sentence against Aramayis Avakian, a 34-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, is half as long as the one originally reported to his family by a lawyer earlier this week.
Avakian’s mother Flora Sakunts and Uzbek wife Shirin Tursunova confirmed to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the earlier information on a 14-year imprisonment term was not true to the facts.
Earlier, a prosecutor had demanded a 18-year jail term for the father of two.
Avakian, a farmer from the eastern Uzbek 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 relatives have all along insisted that he is a Christian and could not have had any ties with Islamist militants and that his imprisonment resulted from his business dispute with a local official.
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.
Avakian, who has strongly denied the charges all along the trial, reportedly plans to appeal the court decision at a higher instance.
Uzbek media, meanwhile, note that no evidence, in fact, was presented during the trial to corroborate the indictment against the Armenian.
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.”
Ulugbek Ashur, an exiled Uzbek journalist living in Canada, has reportedly launched an online petition to Uzbek President Islam Karimov in connection with the Avakian case.
Earlier, some officials in Armenia also expressed concern about the case of the ethnic Armenian citizen of Uzbekistan. 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 their counterparts in Uzbekistan, urging them to ensure Avakian’s right to fair trial.