Page last updated at 07:41 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Three guilty of murdering Uzbek director Mark Weil

By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC Central Asia correspondent

A portrait of Mark Weil, founder and director of the Ilkhom Theatre in Uzbekistan
Mark Weil's plays were often critical of the Uzbek authorities

A court in Tashkent has found three men guilty of murdering Uzbekistan's most prominent theatre director in 2007.

The men said they had planned the murder of Mark Weil in response to his portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in his play, Imitating the Koran.

Yakub Gafurov, the man who fatally stabbed the theatre director, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

And two former police officers were sentenced to 17 years each for helping to plot the murder.

The Russian-language Ilkhom theatre company, founded by Mr Weil in the 1970s, staged challenging productions despite Soviet era censorship.

Ilkhom theatre production

And in the newly independent and increasingly repressive Uzbekistan, Mr Weil continued to experiment with subjects like homosexuality - taboo for a largely homophobic society.

The theatre had a loyal following of intellectuals who came to see plays that were frequently critical of the Uzbek authorities.

And some observers suspect Mr Weil's murder was politically motivated.

Imitating the Koran is based on a poem by Russian 19th Century poet Alexander Pushkin.

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