The opening of the trial of Voice of America reporter Abdumalik Boboyev is being pushed back, apparently to give his new defense lawyer time to get up to speed on the case. But the defendant tells EurasiaNet.org that he expects a guilty verdict whenever the trial concludes.
“I don’t think it [the trial] will be resolved in my favor. I know how such trials take place in Uzbekistan,” Boboyev, who also writes under the name Malik Mansur, told EurasiaNet.org by phone from Tashkent on October 4. He added that he expected the state prosecutor to come up with an “expert opinion” to seal his fate.
Authorities have charged Boboyev – who works as a stringer for the VOA’s Uzbek Service – with “defamation,” “preparing and disseminating material constituting a threat to public order and security,” and "unlawful entry or exit to Uzbekistan,” the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan said in an emailed statement on October 1.
Boboyev faces up to eight years in prison, if convicted of the charges. Independent media observers describe the charges as trumped-up and politically motivated. His new lawyer expects the trial to commence later this week.
Boboyev’s editor, VOA Uzbek Service Chief Cevdet Seyhan, said that the trial date was pushed back due to the sudden change in his legal defense team. His former lawyer, Sobir Kuchimov, abruptly withdrew from the case, claiming a heavy workload.
“Non state-media and all freelance journalists in Uzbekistan continue to be the target of unrelenting judicial harassment, and this is a matter of serious concern to me as a journalist,” Seyhan told EurasiaNet.org. “Abdumalik Boboyev is a professional journalist who covered events from Central Asia impartially and in accordance with journalistic ethics set by VOA. He is required to present accurate and balanced reports, and he should not be penalized for doing his job.”
Boboyev said he expected the US government to take a forceful stand on his case, citing the fact that it was his work for the US government-funded VOA that landed him in this situation. Responding to EurasiaNet.org’s request for comment on October 4, a US Embassy spokesperson in Tashkent said; “We are very concerned by the arrest and impending trial of Mr. Boboyev. We are following the case very closely and expect Uzbekistan to uphold its constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has characterized Uzbekistan’s media climate as “appalling.” A statement distributed by the group on September 17 urges the international community to stop maintaining a “facade of dialogue” with Tashkent. Such a stance, the statement added, “allows the Central Asian country to enjoy an unacceptable degree of leniency” as it engages in egregious human rights abuses.
“Boboyev is one of the country’s last outspoken journalists. The authorities have long had him in their sights and have been harassing him since the start of the year, but he has never stopped providing independent coverage of Uzbek society,” the RSF statement said.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.