Trial Postponed for VOA Correspondent in Uzbekistan
The trial of Abdumalik Boboyev, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Voice of America (VOA), scheduled originally for October 2 has been postponed, the independent Central Asia news site ferghana.ru reported.
Boboyev's former lawyer, Sobir Kuchimov, has unexpectedly withdrawn from the case, citing a heavy workload, forcing Boboyev to find a new lawyer.
Uzbekistan's community of independent attorneys willing to take on sensitive political cases has dwindled in the last year as the Uzbek government has launched an assault on the independent bar under the guise of reforms, bringing bar associations under the control of the Ministry of Justice. All lawyers have been forced to re-take bar exams, and some who took on human rights cases challenging the government have found themselves arbitrarily disqualified.
Boboyev is charged with four counts under the Uzbek penal code: "defamation," "insult", "unlawful entry or exit to Uzbbekistan" and "preparation or dissemination of materials that threaten public safety and public order," ferghana.ru reported. Prosecutors claim that this last offense was also committed "with material aid from religious organizations, and also foreign states, organizations, and citizens," apparently a reference to the fact that VOA is financed by the U.S. government. Boboyev faces from 5 to 8 years of prison.
The VOA correspondent did not see the indictment until September 30, two days before the trial was to start, and was given only a few hours to read the text. Boboyev is charged with libeling and insulting state officials and law-enforcers, and spreading panic among the populace. He is also accused of failing to obtain official press accreditation from the Foreign Ministry, although his applications in the past were refused.
A report from a state expert that concluded his broadcasts violated Uzbek law has still not been provided. Human rights groups have been gathering signatures to a petition on his behalf.
[UPDATE October 5] The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent has published, a link to a statement from Ambassador Ian Kelly, the U.S. ambassador to OSCE in Vienna made on September 23, expressing "grave concern about the state of media freedom in Uzbekistan," and finding "particularly worrying the present charges brought against journalist Abdulmalik Boboyev.