Letters   |   Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan should drop charges against journalists

October 8, 2010

 

Islam Karimov
President of Uzbekistan
ul. Uzbekistanskaya 43, Rezidentsia prezidenta
700163 Tashkent, Republic of Uzbekistan
Fax: +998 71 2395325
E-mail: [email protected]

 

Dear President Karimov,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the politicized prosecution of two journalists: Abdumalik Boboyev, a stringer for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), and Vladimir Berezovsky, an editor for the news website Vesti.

Both men are standing trial in Tashkent. If convicted, they face lengthy prison terms.

We ask you to ensure all charges against these journalists are dropped. We call on you to repudiate the systemic suppression of the press that has made Uzbekistan a leading jailer of journalists in Eurasia. 

Boboyev and Berezovsky were charged with defamation and insult of the Uzbek nation and state agencies through mass media. According to CPJ research, such charges are not listed in the Uzbek Criminal Code, and no individuals or representatives of state agencies have stepped forward to claim they were targets of defamation.

CPJ research also shows that the indictments were based on obscure reports from the Uzbek information ministry's Center for Mass Communications Monitoring, an agency that is routinely used to suppress the media. 

Boboyev is a freelance journalist who reported on corruption, human rights abuses, the weak economy and flaws in the healthcare system, according to VOA Uzbek service representatives. This summer he was detained by police at the Uzbek-Kazakh border, where he was trying to photograph a group of Uzbek labor migrants, according to the news website Ferghana.

Prosecutors later charged Boboyev with defaming and insulting unnamed government employees, law enforcement agencies, and the Uzbek judicial system, along with crossing a border illegally. They also charged him with producing and distributing materials that were a threat to public security with the help of a foreign agency--in this case, VOA. That charge alone carries a sentence of up to 8 years in prison.

The case against Boboyev is based solely on his work as a journalist, VOA representatives told CPJ. His trial started on Thursday. If convicted, he faces up to 14 years in jail.

Berezovsky, the Russian editor of the Tashkent-based news website Vesti, told CPJ that he is being charged with defamation on the basis of 16 articles that appeared on his news site.  The articles were republished by Vesti and originated with other Russian news agencies including Interfax, Regnum and RIA-Novosti, as well as the website Ferghana.

Eldar Zufarov, a so-called "expert" at the Center for Mass Communications Monitoring, claimed that the articles "distributed libelous information" and that Berezovsky had "committed crimes against freedom, honor, and dignity" of unnamed persons, according to an account from Ferghana.

Prosecutors initially filed charges against Berezovsky after he wrote an article criticizing Tashkent authorities for re-naming a street that had previously carried the name of an ethnic Russian.  His trial started last month. He now awaits a verdict.

These prosecutions are part of a disturbing pattern. Earlier this year, the Center for Mass Communications Monitoring helped Tashkent prosecutors indict and convict Umida Akhmedova, a well-known documentary filmmaker and photojournalist. She was charged with defaming and insulting the Uzbek people through her work.

Last year, a Tashkent court sentenced HIV/AIDS activist Maksim Popov to a seven-year prison term. Popov was convicted for distributing materials that prosecutors said were libelous and threatening to Uzbek traditions.

CPJ is gravely concerned by the ongoing prosecution of our colleagues in Uzbekistan. Eight years ago, you took the first step towards creating a free, independent media when you pledged to abolish censorship in Uzbekistan.

But the media in Uzbekistan are not free. Your government, relying often on reports from the Center for Mass Communications Monitoring, routinely punishes journalists for publishing the news, which is no crime.

We call on you to ensure that charges are dropped against the journalists now on trial, Abdumalik Boboyev and Vladimir Berezovsky, and to release journalists now serving terms in Uzbekistan on trumped up charges. We also urge you to see that Umida Akhmedova's criminal conviction is expunged and that activist Maksim Popov is released.

In the light of the European Union's upcoming review of sanctions imposed in 2005 against your government for the violent crackdown on civilian protesters in Andijan and other human rights violations, we urge you to renounce the suppression of the press in both word and deed.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

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