Photographer faces jail for ‘defaming’ life in Uzbekistan

Amnesty International has urged the Uzbekistani government to allow its people freedom of expression after one of the country’s most prominent photographers was charged with “defamation of the Uzbekistani people”.

Umida Akhmedova’s photographs, showing scenes of men, women and children carrying out everyday activities, were published in a book entitled Men and Women – From Dawn to Dusk in 2007.  

She was charged by the Uzbekistani authorities on Saturday with slandering and insulting the Uzbekistani people and their traditions.

She is also facing charges for making a documentary film called The Burden of Virginity, which focuses on the traditional obligation on women to prove that they are virgins on their wedding night.

A court hearing is due to take place in the next two weeks. If found guilty of these charges Umida Akhmedova faces up to three years in jail.

“The life that she recorded is not the image of Uzbekistan that the government wants to be seen,” said Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s researcher on Uzbekistan.

“This is the first time that someone in Uzbekistan has been charged because their artistic expression has been interpreted as dissent.”

Amnesty International said it fears that the photographer has been targeted for exercising her right to freedom of expression, and that she will not receive a fair trial. Should she be jailed, she also risks cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

Umida Akhmedova told Aljazeera English in an interview on Tuesday that she could not understand why several years after the initial publication of the images a criminal case had been brought against her.

Her statement was not intended to be political, and in her opinion her images were full of love and positivity, she said.
People expressing their dissenting opinion continue to be harassed, beaten and detained in Uzbekistan even though the authorities repeatedly deny this.

At least four human rights activists and independent journalists were sentenced to long prison sentences in 2009 and others have faced short-term detentions, beatings and accusations of harming the reputation of the country.