Opposition figure Samandar Kukanov , now 72, became one of the worlds longest-held political prisoner after his jailing in 1993 under Islam Karimovs rule

An Uzbek politician incarcerated over 20 years ago on larceny charges that supporters say stemmed from his opposition to the late strongman Islam Karimov has been freed, according to supporters.

Samandar Kukanov , now 72, was imprisoned in 1993 while serving as an MP in ex-Soviet Uzbekistans parliament and went on to become one of the worlds longest-held political prisoners.

Yes, he is free, told photographer and filmmaker Umida Akhmedov by email after speaking to Kukanovs son Sardor.

Kukanovs original 20 -year-sentence was widened at least once during the course of its word and a Tashkent-based rights group said it was extended for a further three years in October.

Kukanovs release goes as the interim president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, looks to consolidate control over the central Asian country following the death in September of Karimov after 27 years at the helm.

Mirziyoyev served as Karimovs prime minister for 13 years.

Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said the diplomatic community, including the US government, which publicly appealed to the Uzbek government to release him, had played an important role in securing Kukanovs release.

If interim chairperson Shavkat Mirziyoyev is serious about presenting the world that his regulation will be an improvement over Islam Karimovs repression hell need to release many more political prisoner in addition to ending torture, Swerdlow told.

Uzbekistan was a serial human rights abuser under Karimov, who parlayed the countrys strategic locating on the Afghan border into geopolitical prefer with Russia and the west.

The Muslim-majority country of 32 million people is central Asias most populous and rich in commodities including cotton, gold and gas.

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