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Uzbek photographer found guilty of 'slandering nation'

Umida Akhmedova
Umida Akhmedova says she will appeal against the guilty verdict

A prominent photographer and film-maker in Uzbekistan has been found guilty of slandering the nation through her work.

Umida Akhmedova had been facing up to three years in prison for a series of photos and a film portraying people in Uzbekistan as backward and poor.

But after announcing the guilty verdict, the judge said the photographer would automatically be pardoned under an amnesty.

Ms Akhmedova said she would still appeal against the conviction.

Her work, funded by the Swiss embassy in Tashkent, focused on women's rights.

Last month the Uzbek government decided to prosecute the photographer for an album of work, published in 2007, depicting rural life scenes in Uzbekistan, and for a documentary film.

The film, The Burden of Virginity, focused on the experiences of young women immediately before and after marriage.

But a panel of experts appointed by the government ruled that her work would damage Uzbekistan's spiritual values.

'Aesthetic demands'

An exhausted-looking Ms Akhmedova, 54, had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

"I feel bad. I am a creative person, and sitting in this courtroom like a criminal is very unpleasant," she told AFP.

"I feel like I am the one being slandered," she added.

A group of Uzbek men praying. Photo: Umida Akhmedova

Ms Akhmedova put the blame for the trial not on the government, but on the expert panel it had convened to analyse her work.

The panel concluded in its report that the "photo album does not conform to aesthetic demands", a throwback to Soviet jargon, and that it would damage the country's "spiritual values".

Activists say the government uses its courts to silence critical voices.

'Chilling precedent'

The government denies the accusations and defends its tough policing policies as necessary to combat Islamist groups.

The trial sets a chilling precedent for artists, said Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan.

Analysts said Uzbekistan believes it can afford to ignore criticism of its handling of domestic issues given its strategic location on the northern border of Afghanistan.

It had been trying to repair ties with the United States and the European Union damaged by its brutal handling of an uprising in the city of Andizhan in 2005.



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