Uzbek VOA Correspondent Loses Appeal, Meets with U.S. Official
Voice of America correspondent Abdumalik Boboyev will have to pay a fine equivalent to $8,200 in a defamation suit, the independent Uzbek news site uznews.net reported.
At an appeals hearing on November 12, the Tashkent City Court upheld the sentence of Boboyev, 41, who was convicted October 15 of "slander" of the Uzbek people in his broadcasts for the U.S.-funded international radio station and web site.
Judge Rustam Rasulov allowed independent media, human rights activists, and U.S. and British embassy officials to observe the trial, uznews.net reported.
Boboyev's lawyer argued that no proof of his client's guilt had been supplied, as Uzbek law does not provide for the offense of "defaming the Uzbek people." The prosecutor based the charges on analysis by the Center for Media Monitoring of the Uzbek Telecommunications and Information Technology Agency, which found that Boboyev's reports allegedly contained "a threat to public security" and could "spread panic" among the population.
In a speech before the court, Boboyev said that his duty as a journalist was to tell the truth, and his right to freedom of speech was enshrined in Uzbekistan's constitution.
There has been some concern that the U.S. is pulling back on human rights criticism in the interests of securing transit rights through Uzbekistan for the Northern Distribution Network to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. On this case, however, the U.S. made a number of public protests.
The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent released a statement about Boboyev's case on its website November 12:
The Embassy remains concerned about the state of media freedom in Uzbekistan. Using the criminal justice system to punish journalists for freely expressed views is contrary to Uzbekistan's constitution and international obligations, and has a chilling effect on journalists throughout the country.
According to a U.S. Embassy press release, Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, also met with Boboyev while he visited Tashkent November 9-10 for talks with officials.
Earlier, U.S. officials had raised the journalist's case at meetings of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna and Warsaw, and also in Washington with a visiting trade delegation from Uzbekistan.
Boboyev was among several journalists summoned by the prosecutor in January and warned about their "tendentious" writings. Photojournalist Umida Ahmedova was convicted of "defamation of the Uzbek people" and fined earlier this year, and Russian journalist Vladimir Berezovsky was also found guilty and then pardoned last month. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that seven reporters remain in prison in Uzbekistan.