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Photographer Faces Jail For \”Insulting\” Uzbekistan

February 8, 2010

By: Adrian Jarrett. On January 23rd prominent Uzbek photojournalist and filmmaker Umida Akhmedova was charged by the country’s authorities for committing criminal offenses under Article 139 (“slander”) and Article 140 (“insult”) of the Uzbek Criminal Code after being reported by the Uzbek State Agency for Press and Information, a government media watchdog. The offending piece of work, “Woman and Man: From Dawn till Night,” consists of 110 photographs of traditional Uzbek life and was made with support from the Swiss Embassy Gender Program in 2007. Ferghana, a regional news website, reports that prior to being charged, Akhmedova was also questioned about her documentary, The Burden of Virginity, a 2008 film that chronicles the traditional social pressures for young women in Uzbekistan to abstain from sexual relations until marriage.

The Uzbek authorities state that they undertook an expert review of Akhmedova’s work and concluded that in her work, she made comments that were “unscientific, unsound and inappropriate” which resulted in a “disrespectful attitude towards national traditions.” In the review, particular emphasis was placed on the fact that Akhmedova photographs focus on the “undeveloped” regions of the country rather than more modern areas, leading to what the report found was a deliberately distorted image of the country.

The International Association of Art Critics have appealed to Uzbek authorities to release Akhmedova, stating that her work ” cannot be viewed as a “document” in legal sense, therefore it cannot be an agent of “slander”.” Some Uzbek and Kazakh art critics have also suggested that the authorities are not qualified to judge her work, an opposing report they made to the one made by Uzbek authorities asserts that those that reviewed Akhmedova’s work showed “incompetence” and “ignorance.” Also, Akhmedova told Ferghana that when she was interviewed at a Tashkent police station, her interviewer did not understand what an ethnographer was, indicating that little was known about the nature or purpose of her work.

Reporters Without Borders have condemned the charges against Akhmedova, describing them as “an absurd and flagrant violation of free expression.” Reporters Without Borders also reports that discussion of Uzbekistan’s social problems are not permitted and that the charges against Akhmedova reaffirms that any debate on Uzbek society is “unthinkable.”

However, despite these criticisms of press freedom in Uzbekistan, Uzbek President Islam Karimov complained last Wednesday that his country’s media was “toothless” and told his legislators they should “create conditions for more active reporting by Uzbek media” particularly in areas of government policy.

Akhmedova, a graduate of the All Soviet State Institute of Cinematography, was the first camerawoman in Uzbekistan and won the 2006 Inter Press Grand Prize for Modern Photography in Central Asia. The charges against her have a maximum sentence of three years.

To see some of Akhmedova’s work, click here.

Photo Credit: Umida Akhmedova.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.