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Central & South Asia
Uzbek photos anger officials
Photographer says she faces prison for portraying "negative" image of Uzbekistan.
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2010 18:15 GMT
A "panel of experts" apparently found that  Akhmedova's work left a negative impression

A photographer in Uzbekistan has said she has been charged with slandering the dignity of the Central Asian state through her photographs and a documentary film portraying of life in the isolated state.

Umida Akhmedova could face up to three years in prison if found guilty of the charges brought by prosecutors in the former Soviet state.

"An investigator in Tashkent's Mirabad police station informed me ... that I was charged with part three of article 139 of the Uzbek criminal code," Akhmedova said on Monday.

A state-sponsored "panel of experts" found that Akhmedova's work left a negative impression on viewers who were unfamiliar with Uzbek traditions, showing the Uzbek people as uncultured and backward.

The panel concluded that "her unscientific, unsound and inappropriate comments" contained hidden implicatinos.

The well-known photographer said investigators offered her amnesty if she pleaded guilty.

'Vague charges'

"I refused it as I am not a criminal," Akhmedova said.

"I cannot understand ... where is the libel here. I don't understand why, after several years of the photographs being published, a criminal case being opened against me," she told Al Jazeera.

"I am not political at all. I am just interested in the lives of ordinary people"

Umida Akhmedova,
photographer

"The charges are so vague - that it contradicts Uzbek traditions. I am not political at all. I am just interested in the lives of ordinary people," she said.

The Uzbek prosecutor general's office denied it had opened a criminal case against Akhmedova.

Maisy Wicher-ding, a Central Asia expert with the human rights group Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera that the life Akhmedova recorded does not conform with the image the government wants to project to the world.

"They prefer a much more sanitised version," Maisy said.

"The Uzbek government has long been waging a public relations campaign. They say there's freedom of expression, and human rights are respected, but when you look at the practice, that is not what's happening.

"However, this is the first time we have someone being pursued for their perceived expression of dissent. She did not set out to dissent.

"She is not a political activist ... she is not a human rights defender. This goes beyond what happens normally where any expression of dissent is swiftly clamped down on by authorities."

The book containing more than 100 photographs of rural life and a documentary film about women's rights, were both funded by the Swiss embassy in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

However, embassy officials distanced themselves from the projects after the film, "The Burden of Virginity," proved controversial upon its release in 2009.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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