Amnesty International has called on the Uzbekistani authorities to quash the conviction of “slander and insult” of a prominent photographer and documentary filmmaker who has been recording people’s lives in Uzbekistan.
Umida Ahmedova was found guilty as charged by the Mirabad district court in Tashkent city on Wednesday, but at the same time pardoned by the presiding judge.
The charges were based on the content of some of Umida Ahmedova’s photographs and film projects which were interpreted by the Uzbekistani authorities as slandering and insulting the Uzbekistani people and their traditions.
“While Umida Akhmedova was not jailed today she was nevertheless convicted simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression,” said Maisy Weicherding, Uzbekistan researcher for Amnesty International.
“This conviction remains even if she has been pardoned and is at liberty. She now has a criminal record.”
In 2007, Umida Ahmedova published a photo album under the title Women and Men – from Dawn to Dusk, which focused on gender inequalities in Uzbekistan. The album was sponsored by the Swiss embassy in Tashkent.
In 2008 she produced a film, The Burden of Virginity, which explored the traditional obligations on women to prove their virginity on their wedding night.
Umida Ahmedova was officially charged with the offences of slander and insult on 23 January, based on the analysis of the State Press and Information Agency and the conclusions of an “expert group”, assigned by the office of the Prosecutor General to evaluate her photographs and documentary film.
The group was said to be composed of psychologists, experts on religious matters, propaganda and spirituality. It did not include any experts on human rights or gender despite the obvious link to gender issues in her work.
The group found that the documentary was damaging to the country’s image, denigrating its national traditions and undermining spiritual and moral values.
It also concluded that in the photo album Umida Ahmedova aimed to show only the “dark side of life in Uzbekistan”, and recommended that her work be banned from public distribution.
Amnesty International said that it considered that the charges against Umida Ahmedova constituted a violation of her right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uzbekistan is a state party.
The organization also expressed its concern that the criminal proceedings against Umida Ahmedova may have been brought to intimidate other artists who are documenting traditional practices that discriminate against women and girls.