*Re: Uzbekistan – Human rights defender Ms Umida Ahmedova facing charges of slander and insult*
On 16 December 2009 human rights defender Ms *Umida Ahmedova*, a photographer and film-maker, learnt that she is facing charges of slander and insult in relation to a book of her photographs. The charges relate to an investigation opened in November 2009 by the Uzbek Agency of Media and Information into several books and films created on gender issues, whose authors were examined by officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. These books and films were produced with the support of the Gender Program run by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent, which is a collection of humanitarian and educational projects and has led to the production of several works including documentary films, text books, collection of photographs and studies.
On 16 December 2009 Umida Ahmedova was called to Mirobod Department of Internal Affairs, where she learnt that she was officially suspected > of charges of slander (article 139) and insult (articles 140) and article 190 "conducting activities without license” of the Uzbek Criminal Code. She was advised to hire a lawyer. The charges relate to the publication of an album of her photographs, "Women and Men: From Dawn to Dusk”, published in 2007; "Women and Men in Customs and "Rituals” a documentary film also produced by Umida Akhmedova with the assistance of the Swiss Embassy Gender Program; and to "Virginity Code” produced by Umida Akhmedova but not finally approved by the Gender Program.
" Women and Men: From Dawn to Dusk” contains 110 photographs which reflect the life and traditions of the people of Uzbekistan. The Tashkent Prosecutor's Office has brought charges on the basis that the album of photographs and film constituted "an insult and slander of the Uzbek people”. The charges carry a possible sentence of imprisonment up to six months, or 2-3 years of "correctional work”.
Uzbek regulations require any publication produced by an NGO or international organisation to receive permission from state officials, including the Cabinet of Ministers. The investigation by the Agency of Media and Information follows the introduction in March 2009 of the "Program on enhancing national spirituality and struggle against phenomena and activities alien to the Uzbek way of living and mentality”. The program began with the screening of publications and media products by international organisations to determine whether they related to subjects identified as "hostile to the national culture and tradition”. It is believed that such subjects include gender equality, feminism, domestic violence, sex education, etc. A special commission of seven experts, which reportedly did not include representatives with gender expertise, were appointed to review the publications.
Front Line believes that the investigation into Umida Ahmedova and other women's human rights defenders are directly related to their work in the defence of human rights, particularly gender rights. Front Line sees this as part of a pattern of ongoing harassment against women human rights defenders as a result of Uzbek policy towards questions of family, culture and tradition. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Umida Ahmedova and other women human rights defenders.
*Front Line urges the Uzbek authorities to: *
1. Immediately close the investigation into Umida Ahmedova and other gender human rights defenders, as it is believed that these measures have been taken against them solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Umida Ahmedova;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.