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Uzbekistan: authorities are again trying to stifle a free voice

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Uzbek authorities are trying to crack down on independent journalist Said Abdurahimov. They collect personal information and addresses of all who express their solidarity with him.
 
Said Abdurahimov (pen name - Sid Yanyshev), was born on 17 June 1972. He is a journalist, writer and human rights activist. He works with "Ferghana.Ru", "16/12-TV", "Ozodlik" - Uzbek service of Radio "Liberty", the BBC and other.
 
Abdurahimov is a member of International PEN. His creative work can be found on his personal web page at "SidYanyshev".
 
He is a winner of the First Prize in the field of journalism of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan (2009); a winner of the Okudzhava First All-American festival of songs (1998); a winner of the Samarkand Festival of Art Song (1989); winner of the First Chimgan Rally Seminar of Art song (1987).
 
For many years he cooperated with almost all international human rights organisations and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia.
 
His video project “Shoot me” quickly became popular, because it is aimed at the development of public debate on topics of concern to the Uzbek society. Intellectuals and victims of bureaucratic arbitrariness living in the country participate in open discussions. Many of them escaped arrest and were able to defend their constitutional rights because of publicity through this project.
 
The reason for the latest attacks on the journalist Said Abdurahimov was his article "Back to demolishing of houses in Tashkent: residents are denied compensation," published on 25 May 2014 on the site of the international news agency "Ferghana.Ru" and on TV 16/12 of 21 May 2014, where a video footage of the demolition of houses and interview of the victimsit was used.
 
Information about the demolition of buildings in Tashkent and elsewhere by the government decree is a multi-faceted topic. Residents of these homes often do not receive any compensation to which they are entitled by the law. Even in cases where they are offered other accommodation, it is in older homes and on the outskirts of the city, where heating, water and gas supplies are especially poor. Besides registration of the new properties usually is slow and difficult. These difficulties are experienced by people of different ages, even helpless elderly and disabled.
 
Government offices are inundated with complaints of the evicted. Executive agencies do not consider the complaints of citizens and press publications for very long time. Social inequality and the invasion of privacy of victims, contributing to the deterioration of the state of this group of the population, has become a common practice. Complaints of the affected do not get through to officials who are obliged to ensure their rights, who are accustomed to impunity.
  • The Court subpoena 
The subpoena was received on 27 June 2014, on a Friday evening, at the end of a working day. It said that Said Abdurahimov was ordered to appear in the Shayhantaur Criminal Court on 28 June at 10:00. The subpoena did not indicated in relation to which case he was being summoned and what offense he is charged with. A copy of the subpoena is attached.
  • The investigation
On 26 June 2014 the journalist was summoned to the Main Police Department of Internal Affairs of Tashkent. Then he found out that the residents of the Koh Otaa street complained against him. Their houses were demolished for the construction of a large mosque and roads in the city of Tashkent. They wrote that the journalist Sid Yanyshev asked them questions in order to "discredit the policy of the state" and to generate "libel and slander."
 
According to Abdurahimov, residents willingly told about their plight. They did not receive a compensation, were not offered equivalent housing in other parts of Tashkent. In response to their complaints, the officials were indifferent and inactive. The journalist tried to explain to the investigator that representatives of the executive authorities do not fulfill Article 19 of the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On protection of private property and guarantees of the rights of owners." It says that public authorities must notify the homeowner of their decision no later than six months before the demolition in written form and attach to the notice a copy of the decision of a hokim (local governor), in this case – the hokim of Tashkent. However, almost all of these residents were given very short notices. Abdurahimov explained that he discussed their position with the residents. This is evidenced by his article and video interview recorded on a flash card. There is no discussion of the government policies in his materials. No one took his explanations into consideration.
 
The investigation was carried out without his lawyer.
  • Waiting for the Court hearing
Even before the trial began, almost all the leading Uzbek journalists and human rights activists gathered to express their solidarity with Said Abdurahimov, some travelled from other regions. All of them continue to work in Uzbekistan, informing the public about the situation of human rights in the country. Two employees of the U.S. Embassy attended the hearing as observers.
 
More than 20 people waited for two and a half hours outside the Court building. All this time they were secretly filmed on camera phones by people in plain cloth, from time to time, seen in the windows of the court by Said Abdurahimov’s colleagues. This kind of behaviour is typical of the agents of SNB and Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to eye-witnesses, most of them were interested in the identities of journalists and human rights defenders.
  • The trial
Trial was scheduled for 10:00. Approximately at 10:35 Said Abdurahimov was called by a policeman on duty and asked to show the subpoena and at about 11 he was asked to enter the Courtroom. Three police officer who represented the prosecution were there too. 
 
When Said Abdurahimov was invited into the courtroom, for some time he refused enter, because, they were not letting anyone else in, but him, even though the hearing was declared open. At the insistence of Abdurahimov they had to allow everyone to enter the hall. The authorities demanded everyone to produce a passport, recorded details and their address into the logbook. This took another hour.
 
The trial began at about 12 o’clock. Once Said Abdurahimov presented himself to the court, the judge asked if he had a statement to make. Abdurahimov replied that he does.
 
Said Abdurahimov asked to:
— give him a week to familiarise with the case;
— be provided with a lawyer.
Therefore, the trial was postponed. The accused was given only an hour to familiarise with the case, and during that time two lawyers provided by the State arrived.
  
The trial was presided over by Judge Shukurullo Inogamov. In the beginning of the trial, the Judge did not give the reasons for prosecution of Abdurahimov. According to journalist Alexei Volosevich, in response to Said Abdurahimov’s request to explain why he was being prosecuted, the Judge frowned and said, "You have familiarised yourself with the case, haven’t you?" And immediately led the conversation away from this topic.
 
It later emerged that five residents of the Koh Ota Street of the city of Tashkent, living in houses designated for demolition, made a statement that Abdurahimov interviewed them without their consent and asked for statutory measures to be taken in this regard.
 
Charges against journalist Abdurahimov were supported by the Head of the Department to combat terrorism of Ministry of Internal Affairs, Egamberdiev Bakhtiar. It is known that he bullied the residents of Koh Ota Street forcing to write a statement against Abdurahimov.
 
As an expert,  “Tatiana” was invited to the court. According to the judge, she was an employee of the National TV Channel "Yoshlar." (note from AHRCA: people attending the hearing could not hear her last name, and we could not establish her full name, title and place of work). She took the responsibility of establishing if Said Abdurahimov has got a right to work as a journalist. She based her assessment solely on her personal opinion without mentioning any legal acts. Tatiana claimed that in Uzbekistan, allegedly, there are no independent journalists. Apparently, the “expert” Tatiana has no idea about independent journalism.
 
The court also took into account the expertise of the Department of Media Monitoring at the Agency for Press and Information of Uzbekistan contained on a single sheet and signed by 4 persons. The authors' names were not disclosed. Director General of the National Agency "Uzbekkino" Jakhongir Kasimov signed an official letter from his department, where he said he did not know the journalist Said Abdurahimov, so the latter was not entitled to videotape on behalf of the agency. But the fact is that Abdurahimov always said that he was working as a freelance journalist and he did not have any relation to any agency, including "Uzbekkino".
 
During the trial, the equality of the parties was not observed. The accused had no opportunity to prepare evidence of his innocence and call any witnesses in his defense. The Judge often rudely interrupted him and did not give an opportunity to speak in his defence.
  
Two of the residents who made statements against Abdurahimov attended the court, but actually testified in his defense. During the break, one of them told the reporters that the residents were summoned to the headquarters, which addressed the issue of compensation for the demolition of their homes. In the headquarters the police officers were present too; the police officers pressured the residents to write statements against Said Abdurahimov. According to the aforementioned witness, she was afraid to tell the court that she was forced to give evidence against the journalist. She was threatened with deprivation of compensation, if she does not give evidence in favour of the prosecution. The three remaining plaintiffs did not appear in the court.
 
The Court did not consider that the journalist was ready to provide the proof of reliability of the information used.
  • Ruling of the Court
On 28 June 2014 the Shayhantaur Criminal Court of Tashkent ordered to fine the journalist Said Abdurahimov 100 minimum salaries (equivalent to USD 3,200) and confiscate his photo and video equipment.
 
The Court judged the actions of the journalist on articles 165 ("Lesson activities without a license") and 184 "Manufacture or possession with intent to distribution of materials containing a threat to public security and order" of the Administrative Code of Uzbekistan.
  • The Defence
On a Saturday, private law firms do not work, and no lawyer could not participate in the defense of Said Abdurahimov due to the inability to apply for a warrant for the right to represent the interests of the defendant in court. Abdurahimov was forced to ask for a public lawyer. The result was that not one, but two government lawyers turned up, but both were particularly passive and showed a complete tolerance to the absurd.
 
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA notes that the trial of the independent journalist and human rights activist Said Abdurahimov (Sid Yanyshev pseudonym) can not be considered independent and impartial. In fact, the Decision was a reaction of the authorities to the open expression of critical opinion based on accurate information.
  
— The charges against the journalist Abdurahimov are not credible, because they are contrary to Article 29 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, speech and expression. Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart any information, except against the existing constitutional system and other restrictions provided for by law. "
       
           — During the trial, there were no conditions of procedural equality. The prosecution had a privileged position.
           — The Court held the hearing on a very short notice, disregarding the fact that the defendant was only notified about the hearing the night before the hearing in this morning. He could not prepare evidence in his defense and had no time to study the case materials.
            — The court did not examine journalistic materials of Said Abdurahimov for threats to public security and public order.
            — The court ruled, based on the findings of experts who, in their assessment moved away from the subject matter and relied solely on the testimony of the prosecution in proving his guilt.
            — The Court did not seek to use other procedures to ensure effective and fair trial
            — The Court did not consider that the defendant lacked the right to choose a lawyer, thus he was actually deprived of legal representation.
  
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia — AHRCA sent reports to:
— United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights;
— UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
— UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers;
— UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
— EU Special Rapporteur on the countries of Central Asia;
— EU special rapporteur on human rights;
— Governments of democratic countries.
  
We call on you to urge the government of Uzbekistan to fulfill its obligations prescribed in ratified international agreements on human rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
 
 
 
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In the preparation of this material we relied on evidence of journalists Said Abdurahimov (Sid Yanyshev), Alexeу Volosevich, Victor Krymzalova and advice of Alisher Taksanov