TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbek police released dissident writer Nurulloh Muhammad Raufkhon on Sunday after detaining him last week on his return from exile on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda.
The detention of Raufkhon, the first prominent dissident to return to Uzbekistan since the death of its long-time leader Islam Karimov, raised questions about the new president’s efforts to change the country’s image.
His release, if followed by a dropping of charges or acquittal in court, could clear doubts about President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s intentions to open up the Central Asian nation as he seeks badly needed foreign investments.
Raufkhon told Reuters by telephone a policeman had escorted him home from detention without explaining the reason for his release or saying whether the charges had been dropped.
“It happened so quickly - they took me from jail and brought me home - that I could not realise what was happening,” Raufkhon said. “I felt it was real when they knocked on my door to let me in my home. My family is so excited, everyone is happy.”
Police in Tashkent could not be reached for comment.
But Uzbek news website Kun.uz quoted Doniyor Tashkhojayev, deputy chief of Tashkent city police, as saying police had released Raufkhon because “his alleged involvement in terrorism was not confirmed and the arrest warrant was lifted”.
Charges of anti-government propaganda announced by police last week will still be investigated, according to the report.
Raufkhon was blacklisted by the government of strongman leader Karimov in 2016 after publishing a book criticising his policies, and chose to stay abroad, in Turkey, to avoid imprisonment at home.
Karimov died last September after running the mostly Muslim nation bordering Afghanistan for 27 years. His successor Mirziyoyev has since taken steps to liberalise the country and mend the previously strained ties with the West.
Raufkhon decided to return to Uzbekistan after Mirziyoyev last month ordered 16,000 people, including the writer, struck off the security blacklist of potential extremists and dissidents.
But police said last week a criminal case against Raufkhon had remained active since he was charged in absentia with making public calls for unconstitutional change of the state order and producing and disseminating materials containing threat to public security and public order.
Each crime is punishable by up to five years in prison under Uzbek law.
Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Christian Lowe and Matthew Mpoke Bigg