Uzbekistan: French Journalist Acquitted in Libel Case of President's Daughter
A French court today acquitted a journalist who had been sued for libel by Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, for calling her "a dictator's daughter," rue89.com reported.
Augustin Scalbert, a correspondent for the online publication rue89.com tweeted earlier today "On a gagné!" [It is won!] regarding his libel case, which the president's daughter filed in May over his article in May 2010 criticizing her charitable activities, which were alleged to have included payment for an appearance by Italian actress Monica Belluci. She sought €30,000 (US$43,000) in damages.
Scalbert essentially pleaded the truth defense regarding the characterization of the "dictator," summoning human rights activists from Uzbekistan and marshalling reports that illustrated how Karimov's rule in his country is a brutal dictatorship, as numerous journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed for their work, and thousands of Muslims have been imprisoned and tortured on charges of extremism.
Efforts by Karimova-Tillyaeva's lawyer to present character references only backfired, as a letter from the European Union's Europa House citing grants given to a charity for disabled children run by Karimova-Tillyaeva only raised questions from European parliamentarians about EU funding of the Karimov regime. After German MEPs inquired about the funding of Uzbekistan's government, the EU was forced to back down from transferring further grants to the Uzbek state-created charity.
The issue of alleged payments to Belluci was not resolved, although another journalist reportedly supplied documentation, but ultimately the French judge found that there was not sufficient evidence for the charge of libel under French law.
The entire defamation suit "only highlighted Uzbekistan’s repressive approach to criticism," said Human Rights Watch in a statement about the verdict. "“Political figures like Karimova should never be able to abuse defamation laws to silence open and critical debate about government actions," Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher said in a statement on the organization's website.
Libel lawsuits have been the tool of choice with the Karimov regime this year, as photographer Umida Akhmedova was convicted for "slandering the Uzbek people" in her documentary and photographs of rural life in Uzbekistan and then amnestied; Voice of America correspondent, Abdumalik Boboev was fined $11,000; and other correspondents and human rights activists have faced threats or arrest for "defaming the Uzbek people or state."
Ironically, the Uzbek government celebrated its own national Media Day on June 27 by detaining Saodat Omonova and Malokhat Eshankulova, two broadcast journalists who have protested censorship and poor working conditions at a state television channel, and recently declared a hunger strike to call attention to their case.