Uzbek Human Rights Activist Sentenced for Libel; Journalists on Trial
Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, was found guilty of libel by a distict court judge September 28, ferghana.ru reported.
Ikramov has been ordered to publish a refutation of an article he distributed in 2008 about the death of a famous singer, Dilnura Kadyrjanova, in 2007, ferghana.ru reported.
At the time, Ikramov reported on Kadyrjanova's suspicious death, which authorities had pronounced a suicide, based on a complaint by her parents to his organization. A complicated libel suit was later brought against Ikramov by the nanny of the singer's children. In his article, Ikramov had given an account claiming that the children were handed over to the nanny, rather than their maternal grandparents, because the children were witnesses.
According to independent press reports, Kadyrjanova, an award-winning performer who had met with President Karimov, was the mistress of a prominent police chief and had born a child by him. Human rights activists believed that that the official abused his power of office to cover up an investigation of the singer's murder, and refrained from questioning the police chief's wife, who was said to be at the scene of the crime.
Ikramov's case is one of a string of such prosecutions of reporters and human rights monitors in recent months who have been outspoken in their criticism of the government of President Islam Karimov.
In other recent libel cases, such as Voice of America reporter Abdulmalik Boboyev, photographer Umida Akhmedova and vesti.uz editor Vladimir Berezovsky, the defendants were charged with libeling "the Uzbek people" -- an overbroad concept not contained in Uzbek law. By contrast, Ikramov's case involved actual individual plaintiffs who could claim injury.
Ikramov was ordered to pay a fine of 100,000 soums (approximately U.S. $45) and publish a correction. The case was marred by various procedural errors, and the other plaintiffs mentioned in the suit did not even show up in court.
In an interview with ferghana.ru, Ikramov called the lawsuit "absurd," noting that it was filed three years after the article was published, indicating that the real motive of the authorities was to pressure him to cease his human rights work. He said he had no intention of publishing any correction, because he did not believe he had caused any offense. He plans to appeal. Ikramov believes the judge was under pressure from Jamshid Matliubov, the police chief who was the father of Kadyrjanova's child.
Human rights activists were hoping that during President Karimov's visit to New York last week, U.S. officials might raise the case of Boboyev, correspondent for the U.S-funded Voice of America, and the other cases. A rumored meeting of the Uzbek leader and President Barack Obama never took place.
The U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) made a statement condemning Boboyev's arrest. While the OSCE statement has been carried on other U.S. Embassy websites such as in Belgium, the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent has not included it.
Describing the situation in the U.S., the American expert on public administration and journalism said it was very hard to prosecute a journalist on libel charges under U.S. law. Uzbek journalists at the meeting recalled the cases of Akhmedova, Boboyev and others, and pointedly asked Dr. Goss if coverage of events and the violation of the rights of the independent press was even possible by pro-government media in their own country.
In response, she suggested that the journalists contact their Uzbek senators -- in the rubber-stamp parliament. The reporters said they didn't even know their senators' names because they didn't talk to constituents.
In Kyrgyzstan, a court in Jalal-Abad has moved Ulugbek Abdusalamov, editor of Diydor, a newspaper covering the ethnic Uzbek community, from pre-trial detention to house arrested, AKIpress reported today, citing government spokesman Akmat Alagushev.
Alagushev told AKIpress that authorities had responded to an appeal from Abdusalamov's lawyer, who had petitioned for his release on health grounds. Abdusalamov, who suffered a stroke on September 17 and remains hospitalized, has been charged with organizing ethnic unrest and separatist activity during the June violence, a charge that human rights groups say has been fabricated by local Kyrgyz leaders in retribution for his coverage of the Uzbek community's grievances in his newspaper. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reviewed his articles, such as "Is it Easy to be Uzbek?" and called the accusations unsubstantiated, urging his immediate release, ferghana.ru reports.
The trial in the libel case against Russian journalist Vladimir Berezovsky, editor of a now-closed website vesti.uz, resumed yesterday as well, ferghana.ru reported. Ambassador Denis Bashirov of the Russian Embassy in Tashkent was not permitted to attend the trial. While the session was ostensibly open to the public, the judge said the Russian diplomat would have to obtain special permission from the Surpeme Court.
After some difficulties, Marat Zakhidov, vice president of the International Human Rights Society, was able to gain admission to the courtroom to monitor the trial.
Berezovsky's lawyer unsuccessfully petitioned the judge regarding a procedure under Uzbek law which provides for reconciliation with a plaintiff before trial. The defense tried this maneuver in an effort to force the court to declare who in fact was the injured party in the suit, high-lighting the non-existing concept of "insult of the Uzbek people".
The lawyer next tried to call expert witnesses, but was declined, and then tried to get the court to produce more information regarding Eldar Zufarov, the government's expert from the state-run Center for Monitoring of the Uzbek Agency for Communications, but failed.
Local analysts have speculated that Berezovsky displeased the Uzbek government when he began to publish information about the cutting down of old trees planted under the Russian Tsar in Tashkent, and the changing of the Russian street names.
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