Uzbekistan: The government continues persecuting journalists
Vladimir Berezovskiy. Photo © Ferghana.Ru
Vladimir Berezovskiy, the personal correspondent of Parlamentskaya gazeta in Central Asia and the editor of Vesti.uz website, is brought to trial in Uzbekistan for "insult" and "slander". The alleged reason of arrest is the news of Russian information agencies Interfax, ITAR-TASS, RIA Novosti, Regnum, Rosbalt and Ferghana.Ru, reprinted by Vesti.uz during the period of August 1 – November 24, 2009.
As well as in the case with photographer Umida Akhmedova, accused of insulting Uzbek people through her pictures and documentaries, the indictment is based on the report of Center for monitoring mass communications under Uzbek agency of communications and information (UACI). Among several thousands of Vesti.uz publications UACI identified 16 conspiratory news that "may spark interethnic and interstate hatred and make people panic".
As a result, the journalist is incriminated two articles of the Republic of Uzbekistan Criminal Code – "Slander" and "Insult". If he is found guilty, the journalist may be arrested to 6 months and sent to 3 years of correctional tasks, or pay penalty of 400 minimum salaries (about $12 000). The decision of Tashkent Public Prosecutor’s office says that during the period of August 2009 – January 2010 Vesti.uz published "386 articles with slander and false information, targeted against the constitutional system and state policy of the Republic of Uzbekistan".
At the end of 2009 the website placed several articles of Russian media with indirect criticism of Uzbek government. Obviously, these articles produced discontent among Uzbek government that viewed it as systematic hostile activity.
The official reason of filing the criminal case became the report, produced by the Center of monitoring under UACI and saying that within 6 months (August 2009 – January 2010) Vesti.uz, owned by Inform-Form and managed by Berezovskiy, placed 1815 articles, 16 of which "contains slander and anti-popular information, the spread of which may produce the incitement of interethnic and interstate hatred".
The comments from lawyers
V. Berezovskiy does not admit his guilt in the incriminated charges. According to him, the case was framed up by Uzbek authorities against him as the editor of the website with political focus. "I pay attention to the fact that Uzbek Criminal Code does not list the articles on insult and slander against constitutional system and state policy", said Berezovskiy on August 12.
He says that in accordance with Uzbek legislation only the individual person may be insulted. "However, the accusation text does not indicate the person, who suffered from insult on my side. There are no statements from the sufferers in the criminal case. There are no evidences of insult and slander. I am incriminated the insult of Uzbek people, incitement of interethnic and interstate hatred for publication of news of ITAR-TASS, Interfax, Regnum, Rosbalt, Stoleite and others. The sources of information and, therefore, the insult of Uzbek people, are the officials of Russian Federation – Yuriy Luzhkov, Victor Ivanov, Semen Bagdasarov and others", the journalist notes.
The negative response on detention of Vladimir Berezovskiy was already shown Russian Foreign Ministry, RF Public Chamber and the Center of extreme journalism, highlighting the ineligibility of criminal case.
"This is a clear case of law violation. The defendant should not have been brought to trial even if there is a sufferer" says Boris Panteleev, the PhD in Law and expert of RF Public Chamber.
Mikhail Fedotov, the Director of Center of extreme journalism, founded by Russian journalists, also sees no elements of crime in the news, published by Vesti.uz. "The Center of extreme journalists did not find any slandering or insulting elements against certain parties. The information bears news character only, covering socio-political life in CIS. The main point is that Berezovskiy was not the author of these publications; they were copied from other Russian media", he wrote.
Mr. Berezovskiy has 35-year work experience in journalism. He used to work for Pravda Vostoka, the Uzbek governmental newspaper. The journalist was also attracted as personal correspondent of Rossiyskaya gazeta and ITAR-TASS in Uzbekistan.
At the moment, he is the director of Inform-Form news agency, personal correspondent of Parlamentskaya gazeta (the body of State Duma and Federal Assembly of Russian Federation) for Central Asian countries as well as the editor of Vesti.uz website, launched under the support of Russian embassy in January of 2005.
The stated goal of website is "wide and systematic coverage of Russian-Uzbek cooperation, life of Russian community in Uzbekistan". The web source is dedicated to domestic and foreign policy of Russia, labor migration and problems of fellow countrymen.
On August 10, the first session, conducted by Tashkent district criminal court, took place in the apartment of the journalist. Although the lawyer Sergey Mayorov (he was also the lawyer of Umida Akhmedova) presented the medical statements, confirming the decease of the defendant, Judge Nodir Akbarov assumed that the journalist wanted to avoid the session.
Perhaps, for the first time in history of Uzbekistan the court session took place in the apartment of the defendant. The representative of Yakkasaray district prosecutor’s office informed the journalist about the incriminated charges. It turned out that Vladimir Berezovskiy was not fully informed with the case because many documents had not been translated from Uzbek language yet.
The second session was scheduled to August 13, but Berezovskiy missed it because he was not able to make it to the court due to decease. Judge Akbarov said he will assign medical expertise that will decide whether the defendant is able to attend court sessions.
The general context
In the last year the pressure on journalists, human rights advocates and socially active people has intensified in Uzbekistan: it is just worth mentioning the cases of Umida Akhmedova, Maxim Isaev and authors of "Sister talks to sister" book, the inoffensive articles, earlier published in Uzbek press. These days, the human rights advocate Surat Ikramov also goes through trial. The cases against human rights activists Dmitry Tikhonov, Tatiana Dovlatova and Anatoly Volkov were filed recently. Dilmurod Sayid and Solizhon Abdrakhmanov were sentenced to jail on framed up charges over a year ago. Obviously, we are facing the new wave of persecution of civil activists and the case of Vladimir Berezovskiy must be considered in this context.
Apparently, the possible reasons of all this became the article, named "What Yuriy Ivlev fought for", published by Vesti.uz on February 15, 2010. The article mentioned the nationalistic background of renaming the Soviet hero Yuriy Ivlev’s street in Tashkent. The Uzbek authorities did not like the article while the above-mentioned UACI report was prepared on March 1.