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Inside the Bobaev Verdict

Uzbekistan - VOA correspondent Abdumalik Bobaev
On October 14, an Uzbek court found Abdumalik Bobaev guilty of "illegal journalistic activity," based on his courageous reporting over several years for the Voice of America (VOA). Mr. Bobaev defied the odds and was served with an $11,000 fine rather than the eight-year prison term that observers of the case thought was likely.

VOA obtained a copy of the verdict and provided an English translation to RFE. Over six pages long, it catalogs reports that Bobaev broadcast over the radio and published on VOA's website in the summer of 2009 that allegedly violate Uzbekistan's laws on freedom of information and the mass media and constitutional guarantees.

The verdict is curious in many ways, including for its thoroughness and attention to Bobaev's attempts at self-defense. It's also noteworthy for its omission of any "evidence" against Bobaev after 2009, and its admission of fear about the possibility of public panic, stated probably half a dozen times. The international community should take note of the court's extreme concern for the country's public image.

In scripted prose, the verdict proclaims, "With the use of his position and financial aid from organizations and private persons of foreign countries, [Bobaev] placed information aimed at misleading the population of Uzbekistan, disturbing civic accord, expressing distrust with the government and law-enforcement agencies, political parties and parliament members, causing panic of the population – all of which may lead to the violation of legislation by citizens and fall of Uzbekistan’s reputation in the eyes of the public."

The verdict cites the findings of a "special commission of experts," which concluded that Bobaev’s VOA reports "lack objectivity...are slanderous and false ... and have a potential to cause panic of the population, dissent, disturb civic accord, destabilize the situation aimed against public security." A similar commission judged Umida Akhmedova's photos of Uzbek village life to be "barbarian" and "slanderous" in a high-profile defamation case last year.

The court recommends against distributing any of Bobaev's reports in the Uzbek media, since they "contain information that humiliates the image of Uzbekistan in the international arena, false information about the long-established traditions, spiritual wealth of Uzbekistan, humiliates the national pride."

But threatening, jailing and fining journalists into penury is ok.

RFE is grateful to VOA for the translation of the verdict.