A court in Uzbekistan last week sentenced a citizen reporter to eight years in prison on charges of defamation and extortion in the culmination of the government’s most recent broadside in its war on an often unruly social media scene.
Defenders of Olimjon Haydarov, a popular blogger known for his critical videos on a variety of issues, have condemned the trial and conviction, arguing that it constitutes a warning shot for civil society.
Haydarov, 34, was arrested in late July. Investigators claimed that he had been caught red-handed while taking cash from local businessmen in exchange for refraining from publishing a negative video report.
The blogger, as citizen reporters are customarily known in Uzbekistan, is said to have demanded $10,000 from the owners of a shopping mall and allegedly managed to receive $7,500 of this amount.
Haydarov’s younger brother has told journalists that the accusations are false. The blogger was talking to an acquaintance on the street at the moment of his arrest and was made by police to touch money planted in his car, the brother said.
Haydarov pleaded not guilty and insisted on his innocence during a trial that lasted only a month. Prosecutor Mirzohid Ermatov had asked for 9-and-a-half years in prison.
The plaintiffs and victims are reported to have included a khokim, or mayor, of the city of Kokand and several law enforcement officers.
In addition to ordering prison time in his December 1 verdict, the judge in Haydarov’s trial ordered that the content of the journalist’s social media accounts be expunged.
Haydarov’s relatives say that he plans to appeal.
Political commentator Kamoliddin Rabbimov said this trial should be seen as a warning.
“Olimjon Haydarov has been imprisoned for eight years. This means he will be released at the end of 2031. This is a horrendous ruling. The goal of the trial was to intimidate the public, and this has been achieved,” Rabbimov wrote in his Telegram channel.
Rasul Kusherbayev, a fellow blogger and a former member of parliament, offered a similarly gloomy judgement.
“The verdict against a blogger Olimjon Haydarov is a sign of intolerance towards freedom of speech in Uzbekistan”, he said.
Haydarov is only the latest in the string of Uzbek bloggers to have ended up behind bars in the past few months. In August, a court in Tashkent sentenced Abduqodir Muminov to more than seven years in prison on charges of violation of privacy, extortion and fraud.
Another extortion trial concluded in late September with guilty verdicts for a group of journalists and bloggers accused of blackmailing officials using the Kompromat.uzb Telegram channel.