Uzbekistan: After Vanishing, Critical Journalist Appears in Prison
An independent journalist missing for three days in Uzbekistan has been jailed on what human rights activists are calling politically motivated charges.Sergei Naumov disappeared in the western city of Urgench on September 21 after telling friends he had been having trouble with local police. Given Uzbekistan’s record of forcibly silencing critics, and Naumov’s reporting on the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, his friends feared the worst. Nadejda Atayeva, France-based leader of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, wrote on her blog on September 24 that Naumov had been located in a detention center in Urgench after the city court found him guilty of "petty hooliganism" and sentenced him to 12 days after a remarkably speedy trial on September 21.Human Rights Watch, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Uzbek human rights activists expressed alarm about Naumov’s disappearance. “The brutal practice of ‘disappearing’ government critics is a terrible blight on Uzbekistan’s already abysmal human rights record,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a September 24 statement. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Tashkent to “scrap the fabricated charges." According to court proceedings, on September 21 Naumov bumped into a woman on the street and started "harassing her, grabbing her breasts and insulting [her] with swear words,” Atayeva wrote on her blog. Naumov denied the accusations, saying he did nothing to disturb the woman. Indignant at Naumov's denials, she turned to the authorities.The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia believes the court proceedings were held with "violations of principles of objectivity and justice" as the names of prosecution witnesses were not made public during the hearings while defense witnesses' testimonies were not taken into account. Naumov was not able to study case materials before the hearings either, Atayeva said.Critics in Uzbekistan often face charges related to sexual harassment or rape, which are difficult to disprove and, from the authorities’ perspective, conveniently slander their opponents. "By all accounts this trial of Sergei Naumov is politically motivated and was a farce. His right to defense is being violated," Atayeva said.