Staunton, October 8 – The ongoing Tashkent trial of a VOA stringer, Ferghana.ru says, shows that “in Uzbekistan, it’s 1937 again,” with the major difference being that the regime does not feel it has to use torture to gain confessions to crimes those charged did not commit but rather can count on elastic laws and equally flexible “expert conclusions” for the same ends.
Yesterday, the trial of Abdumalik Boboyev (the pseudonym for Malik Mansur, 41) began in the Uzbek capital. The Voice of America Uzbek Service correspondent is charged with slander, libel, illegal border crossing, and “the preparation of materials containing a threat to public security and public order” (www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=6754).
Under Uzbekistan law, the severity of the fourth charge is increased because “the crime was committed ‘with the use of financial or other material support received from religious organizations and also from foreign governments, organizations and citizens” – in this case from the US government’s Voice of America. If convicted, Boboyev could face eight years in jail.
The way this case has been handled highlights just how political it is and how little the facts have to do with either the charges being brought or the verdict reached. According to Ferghana.ru, internal evidence from the experts’ conclusion suggests that the case was prepared almost a year ago.
Boboyev, however, was not shown these documents until the end of September and his lawyer withdrew ostensibly because of a crowded schedule. This conjunction of events highlights the political rather than legal nature of the case. But the real evidence for such a conclusion is to be found in the statement of the experts.
Prepared by Rustam Mukhamedov of the Center for Monitoring Mass Communications of the Uzbek Agency for Media and Information – an institution that has acquired notoriety in the past (see www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=6472), this document is, in the words of the Ferghana.ru translator, the most “stupid and illiterate” text he had ever encountered.
That 6700-word document, available online as of yesterday in Russian, is Kafkaesque both in the language it uses and in the logic it employs, qualities that are most clearly demonstrated by extensive quotations as the expert who prepared this is nothing if not long-winded.
For example, the expert concludes that Boboyev used materials from the media of Uzbekistan itself without checking whether the facts were correct and moreover took money “from abroad” in order to “distract the population of Uzbekistan, violate good neighborly relations among citizens and awaken in them distrust to the powers that be and judicial system … sow panic among the population, detract from the dignity and image of Uzbekistan among society, create conditions for the commission of crimes” by disseminating “unchecked one-sided information about Uzbekistan, about [its] existing customs and traditions and cultural wealth.”
In support of such sweeping and obviously political conclusions, the expert offers quotations from the broadcasts and web posting that Boboyev made. One of these that the expert argues violates Uzbekistan’s law reported that “Uzbekistan is one of the countries where freedom of speech is severely limited and where officials exert pressure on journalists, In the country has been established full control over television, radio and the press. Independent internet sites are blocked.”
According to the Uzbek expert, Boboyev’s crime in this case reflected his failure to indicate “from what source” he got this information,” which the expert continues both “baselessly shows “the unjust actions of the judicial system of the country” and “openly defiles the employees of the judicial organs and the law enforcement structures of Uzbekistan.”
Such quotations could be multiplied at will to show that the accusations against Boboyev in fact serve as an indictment of the Uzbek officials and the Uzbekistan government who brought them in the first place. But they also call attention to two other realities that deserve more attention than they often receive.
On the one hand, governments like the one in Uzbekistan have learned that they can write and use laws in ways that subvert the very meaning of law with the additional benefit for themselves that many outside observers will limit their criticism of these regimes because it appears that they are law-based. In fact, as this case shows, they are only “law-like.”
And on the other, the attack on Boboyev, for that is what it is, highlights the continuing importance of international broadcasting and the increasing role of the Internet – throughout the Uzbek expert’s document, the web is referred to almost as many times as broadcasts – in limiting government assaults on freedom of information and promoting freedom more generally.
For all those reasons and so that justice will be done in what is clearly an unjust political system, people of good will there and around the world need to support Boboyev in what will otherwise be his unequal struggle against a regime that by its actions shows why courageous people like himself remain so important.