TASHKENT - Uzbekistan has freed a journalist after nearly two decades behind bars, a local rights group said Friday, after what a watchdog believes to have been the longest prison stretch served by a reporter worldwide.
The release of Yusuf Ruzimuradov, who spent 19 years in jail on charges critics dismissed as politically motivated, was confirmed by rights group Ezgulik, based in the capital Tashkent.
"Yusuf Ruzimuradov was released from penal colony 64/6 in the town of Chirchik near Tashkent on February 22. He feels well," Ezgulik's Abdurakhmon Tashanov wrote in emailed comments to AFP.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media watchdog that monitors threats to reporters across the world, said in tweet on Friday that the 19 years Ruzimuradov spent in jail was "longer than any (journalist) in the world".
Another media freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, had previously acknowledged Ruzimuradov's status as "among the world's longest-held journalists".
Ruzimuradov was jailed for attempting to overthrow the Uzbek government in 1999, among other charges his supporters called bogus.
His sentence had been extended beyond his expected release date in 2014.
Another prominent Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov, who spent 18 years behind bars after being jailed during the 27-year reign of late President Islam Karimov, was released last year.
Both journalists worked at the opposition newspaper Erk, which was banned by the Uzbek regime.
The pair were brought to stand trial in Uzbekistan in 1999 from their place of exile in Ukraine in circumstances supporters likened to a kidnapping.
More than a dozen prominent journalists and rights activists have been released since Karimov's death, including Dilmurod Said, who was freed in early February, feeding hopes for a thaw in one of the former Soviet Union's most repressive states.
Karimov died from a reported stroke in September 2016 after ruling the Central Asian state with an iron fist since independence in 1991.
Uzbekistan's new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who served as prime minister for 13 years, has made moves to distance himself from Karimov's hardline policies while also honouring his memory.
Nevertheless, analysts do not expect him to push through genuine political reforms that would lead to the emergence of a free press and political opposition.