Voice of America reporter accused of insulting officials goes on trial in Uzbekistan

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Voice of America reporter on trial in Uzbekistan

OSH, Kyrgyzstan — A journalist for a U.S.-funded radio station went on trial Thursday in Uzbekistan on charges including slander and posing a threat to public order, an Uzbek rights group said.

Abdumalik Boboyev, an Uzbek journalist with U.S. government-funded Voice of America, is accused of insulting state officials and police through his reports. Other charges include illegal entry into the country, a charge that Boboyev’s colleagues say stemmed from a clerical error with his passport.

The U.S. and British ambassadors sought to attend the court hearing, but were denied entry, the Independent Human Rights Defenders Group said in a statement.

Boboyev, 41, faces up to eight years in prison if found guilty of all the charges against him.

The United States has expressed grave misgivings about the charges brought against Boboyev and urged Uzbekistan to stop the criminal prosecution of journalists.

“Use of the criminal justice system to punish journalists for freely expressed views … has a chilling effect on journalists throughout the country,” Ian Kelly, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said last month.

VOA has spoken up in defense of Boboyev, who has been reporting for its Uzbek Service for more than five years. “Mr. Boboyev, like all VOA journalists, is required to present accurate and balanced reports, and he should not be penalized for doing his job,” VOA director Danforth Austin said in a statement last month.

Rights activists say that using charges such as defamation, slander and “insulting the nation’s honor” have become favored methods of the Uzbek authorities for silencing critics and stifling independent reporting.

Free media are virtually nonexistent in Uzbekistan, and independent journalists are routinely denied accreditation, putting them at further risk of prosecution. The Associated Press has been routinely denied accreditation by Uzbek authorities.

Boboyev’s trial echoes a similar case against a filmmaker who was convicted of slander earlier this year, and released on amnesty, after making a documentary on wedding rituals in the authoritarian former Soviet state.

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