TASHKENT - Uzbekistan has freed a prominent reporter who spent close to a decade in jail, the journalist told AFP Monday, feeding hopes for a thaw in one of the former Soviet Union’s most repressive states.

Dilmurod Said, 56, who was jailed in 2009 on embezzlement and forgery charges he always contested, said he was released on Saturday as part of a presidential amnesty. “Yes, I have been freed. I am at home now,” he told AFP by telephone.

Said said he intends to return to work “focusing on human rights issues” once he has finished a course of treatment for tuberculosis, which he contracted in jail.

Said, whose case had been raised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and numerous human rights organisations, was jailed for 12.5 years in 2009. Months after he was sentenced, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident and his mother also died during his time in jail.

Said is one of more than a dozen prominent journalists and rights activists that have been released since the death of veteran leader Islam Karimov in 2016.

Opposition journalist Muhammad Bekjanov spent 18 years behind bars - one of the longest prison stretches suffered by a reporter worldwide - before he was released last February.

Said said he will attempt to prove his innocence - which authorities have not acknowledged despite his release - in a local court in the central Asian country.

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.

Karimov, whose hardline reign spanned 27 years, died after a reported stroke aged 78 in September 2016. Neighbouring Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, 77, is now the only living ruler of a former Soviet republic with a reign that pre-dates the breakup of the USSR.