Umida Akhmedova

Umida Akhmedova

Please support Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova, who has been charged with defamation for publishing photos of the everyday lives of the Uzbek people.

Sign this Online petition – Stop the criminal suit against prominent photographer Umida Akhmedova.

Also please call or email the Uzbekistan embassy in your country and ask them to stop the persecution of Umida Akhmedova.

See the bottom of this post for contact information for the Uzbekistan embassy and President, and for a sample letter you can send.

Email the press office of the President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Islam Karimov:

presidents_office@press-service.uz

Why Should We Care?

Although this blog is titled, “Abolish Torture”, I am also concerned about political imprisonment, attacks on journalists and human rights activists, and laws curbing freedom of expression.

Why? Because when freedom of expression is denied, dictatorial governments can inflict any sort of barbarity on their people, and no one can speak out. No voice can be raised.

The Accusation

Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova published an album of photos in 2007 called “Women and Men: from Dawn to Dusk”. It contains over 100 photos of Uzbek people – rural people, in particular – often engaging in traditional rites and customs.

The Uzbekistan authorities have accused Ms. Akhmedova of portraying the Uzbek people as backward. She has been charged with defamation and insulting Uzbek traditions. The general prosecutor’s office in the capital, Tashkent, set up a special commission to study the photographs, and the commission subsequently decided that the photographs distort reality, ignoring the modern aspects of life in the Uzbek capital, and focusing on images that portray Uzbekistan’s people as poor, suffering, unattractive or primitive.

Umida Akhmedova is now awaiting trial and has been banned from leaving the country. If convicted she faces up to six months in prison or three years of labor.

Umida Akhmedova

Umida Akhmedova

According to the information received, on December 16, 2009 Ms. Umida Ahmedova was informed by the Mirobod Department of Internal Affairs (RDIA) that she was facing charges of “slander” and “insult” (respectively Articles 139 and 140 of the Uzbek Criminal Code) of the Uzbek people.

Those charges were brought by the Tashkent Prosecutor’s Office, in relation to her book of photographs entitled “Women and Men: From Dawn to Dusk”, which was published in 2007 and contains 110 photographs reflecting the life and traditions of Uzbek people, as well as to her documentary films “Women and Men in Customs” and “Rituals and Virginity Code”. She is facing up to six months’ imprisonment or from two to three years of “correctional work”.

These charges follow an investigation carried out in November 2009 by the Uzbek Agency of Media and Information into several books and films on gender issues that were produced in collaboration with the Gender Programme of the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent.

Umida says that the first time she was called by police was on November 17, 2009. Captain Nodir Akhmadzhanov invited her to Mirabod RDIA to give a statement regarding her “Women and Men: from Dawn to Dusk” album.

According to Umida Akhmedova, captain Nodir Akhmadzhanov, investigator of the Tashkent [EN] city police department, told her that the criminal charges have been filed against all local authors who cooperated with the Gender Program of the Swiss Embassy. There is no information on other authors against whom the charges were filed.

The investigator interviewed Umida for two hours and asked questions related to Akhmedova’s participation in the production of the photo album and such documentary films as “Men and Women: Rites and ritual” and “The Burden of Virginity”.

“He does not even know what the ethnography is,” Umida said. “I said I did ethnography. He asked ‘What is that?’

“I said, ‘In my work I am mainly interested in the ethnographic side of people’s lifestyle. I photograph ethnic rites, traditions and weddings.

“Where is the slander?’ The question remained without answer.”

Photographs Matter

I agree that many of Ms. Akhmedova’s photos portray Uzbek people and customs negatively. But that’s not the point. The freedom to take and publish photographs is important.

A photograph titled, “Migrant Mother”, taken in 1936 in the USA, triggered a public outcry and spurred federal relief to suffering migrants. A photograph titled, “”Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief”, taken in Vietnam in 1968 by Eddie Adams, played a part in turning the American public against the Vietnam War. A photograph of starving children in Biafra (Africa) in 1969 shocked the world and prompted an outpouring of aid. The photograph of a Chinese man standing fearlessly before a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 gave hope to Chinese people struggling for freedom. The photographs of American abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib woke up the American public to the dangers of neglecting human rights standards.

Photographs matter, and the freedom to take and publish them must not be curtailed.

Exposing Desperate Poverty

Global Voices Online writes,

Many believe that the main reason for prosecution of photographer Umida Akhmedova is her active civil position.Albatrossdoc writes (ru) that Umida Akhmedova and her husband Oleg Karpov (director of Tashkent Film Museum) were way too active for Uzbekistan – making films, photos and showing social topical movies in the Film Museum.

Albatrossdoc guesses that there could be people, who didn’t like it. The Museum has been closed for the last three months and no official explanation was given.

Having a look at Umida’s pictures one can see that she makes photos of the ordinary Uzbek people. Many of them live in poverty – and many are in desperate poverty.

Exposing this poverty is necessary to spur change. It must not be considered a crime.

Here are some of Ms. Ahmedova’s photos:

Some People to Contact:

President Islam Karimov
Office of the President
43 Uzbekistan Avenue
700163 Tashkent
Email: presidents_office@press-service.uz

Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the United States:

Phone: (202) 887-5300
Fax: (202) 293-6804
Mailing Address:
Embassy of Uzbekistan
1746 Massachusetts Avenue,
N.W., Washington, D.C.
20036-1903
Email: info@uzbekistan.org

Sample Letter

This is an example of a letter you can send to the embassy or email to the President of Uzbekistan. Feel free to personalize it to reflect your thoughts or concerns:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing concerning the Impending trial of Umida Akhmedova, as reported by many news outlets including the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8473285.stm

As believer in Human Rights, I feel it would be a serious injustice to prosecute a photographer for such documentary photography. Ms. Akhmedova’s prosecution will be rightly seen as an offense against freedom of expression, free press and free speech. I particularly feel it would be unfortunate considering that “Improvement in human rights now a top government priority” (your website: http://www.uzbekistan.org/social_issues/ ).

I don’t agree that the photos accompanying the BBC story defame and insult Uzbek traditions. I saw a series of beautiful photos illustrating a picturesque country with interesting social customs and sights.

Even if it is true that some photos depict poverty and hardship, the appropriate response to this is to work to alleviate these conditions, not to persecute the photographer.

Please end the unfortunate and unjust prosecution of Umida Akhmedova.

Sincerely