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Uzbekistan: Criminal Charges Filed Against Documentary Photographer Umida Akhmedova

Umida Akhmedova, photo by Fergana.ru
Umida Akhmedova, photo by Fergana.ru

Umida Akhmedova, the Uzbek [EN] documentary photographer, has been accused of insult and slander against Uzbek people and traditions, reports Fergana.ru [EN]. The maximum penalty for these charges includes remedial work on two up to three years or detention for up to six months.

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. Akhmedova is incriminated in the production of “Women and men: from dawn till dusk” photo album [EN - phtos], produced in 2007 under support of Swiss Embassy Gender Program, writes Fergana.ru. There's no information on other authors against whom the charges were filed. The website continues:

The investigator explained Umida Akhmedova that the case against her was produced, based on conclusions of Tashkent public prosecutor’s office experts, noting that the album “is the insult and slander of Uzbek people”. At the same time, it is absolutely unclear which photo (not the photomontage, not the screen version) may be “slander” or “insult”. It is also not clear who and when authorized Uzbek agency for press and information, the state structure, to represent the outraged honor of Uzbek people.

Umida Akhmedova shared first time she was called by police on November 17. Captain Nodir Akhmadzhanov invited her to Mirabad RDIA to give the report of witness on her “Women and men: from dawn to dusk” album. The investigator interviewed Umida for two hours and asked questions, related to Akhmedova’s participation in the production of photo album and as such movies as “Men and women: rites and ritual” and “The burden of virginity” EN] (Torrent can be downloaded here [RU]).

International society of photographers and artists reacted by issuing a petition in defence of Akhmedova [Google Translation - EN]. In the letter of “Protest and Anger” International Coalition of Journalists “Caucasia” expressed extreme disturbance with the fact of charges.

Весь сюжет – пример мракобесия и отката от демократических стандартов, к которым, на словах, так тяготеет Узбекистан. Весь мир хорошо знает, что Программа Швейцарского посольства – это комплекс гуманитарных, образовательных и просветительских проектов. Надо подчеркнуть, что Умида Ахмедова – одна из авторов, сотрудничавших с Программой на протяжении последних лет. Она участвовала также в ряде других международных программ и проектов. Мы, ее коллеги, знаем Умиду не только как талантливого автора, но и как истинную патриотку своей страны. Благодаря работам Умиды, Узбекистан узнали и полюбили тысячи людей в мире.

The whole story is an example of obscurantism and the rollback of democratic standards, which are so praised, in words only, by the Uzbekistan government. The whole world knows that the program of the Swiss embassy is a complex of humanitarian, educational and outreach projects. It must be emphasized that Umida Akhmedova is one of the authors who collaborated with the Program in recent years. She has also participated in several international programs and projects. We, her colleagues know Umida not only as a talented author, but as a true patriot of her country. Thanks to Umida's work, lots of people around the world found out about Uzbekistand and loved this country.

So far about 400 signatures have been collected from dozens of countries. The news of the criminal charges against Akhmedova reached the Russian-speaking blogosphere on December 17, while the event is almost not covered by English-speaking media.

Lj-user vaskodagala says [Google translation - EN] such advocacy campaigns can really help people and asks everyone to sign the petition. The last time it was campaign to get Umida Niyazova out of the jail and out of the country (Coverage of the campaign is available here [EN]). Vaskodagala claims she personally knows Akhmedova and couldn't believe the thing will get that bad:

Но я думала, с нашей Умидой такого не случится – хоть кого заболтает и рассмешит, какое там ей дело пришьешь, Господи? Я так думала. Ан нет. Месяц мы с ней выжидали – она говорила, подожди, мож угомонятся. Год назад у нас был такой сюжет в Кыргызстане – тогда угомонились, точно. А тут нет – Умидку нашу из разряда свидетелей перевели в обвиняемые. И круг сужают – на пустейшем, подчеркну, месте. Национальные традиции она им оклеветала.

But I thought it cannot happen to our Umida – she can make laugh everyone, oh Lord, what can one accuse her of? I thought so. But not now. We waited for a month – she said: ‘wait, maybe they will calm down'. We had almost the same story in Kyrgyzstan a year ago – then we managed to settle things down. But not now – Umida's status was changed from the witnesses to the accused. And they narrow down the circle – on absolutely no basis. You see, she slandered their national traditions.

The petition can be signed here [Google Translation - EN].

Many bloggers who discuss Akhmedova's case ask themselves how it is that a documentary photographer can defame her own people and traditions by making pictures. Moreover, it's absolutely absurd, that a person who in fact documents lives is accused of falsifying them.

Akhmedova's pictures are touching and unusual. They carefully depict the everyday life of Uzbek society. Here are just couple of them.

Uzbek children sitting in crocks, photo by Umida Ahmedova. Courtesy of Fergana.ru

Uzbek children sitting in crocks, photo by Umida Ahmedova. Courtesy of Fergana.ru

A Girl By The Window, photo by Umida Akhmedova, courtesy of Fergana.ru

A Girl By The Window, photo by Umida Akhmedova, courtesy of Fergana.ru

More pictures are available at Fergana.ru [RU]

***
Umida Akhmedova's bio (according to UZSCI)

Born on 21.10.1955 in Parkent [RU], Uzbekistan
1977 – 1981 – Study in Community College, city of Vladimir, Russia
1981 – 1986 – Study in the All-Russian State University of Cinematography [EN], Moscow, Russia
1970 – 1990 – operator at the Uzbek Newsreel
2000 – present – member of the creative union of the Academy of Fine Arts

1 comment

  • As far as “defaming her own society”, the accusation is that she has presented an uneven portrayal of Uzbekistan by concentrating on images of poverty and suffering. But even if this is true, the appropriate response would be to work to alleviate the suffering shown, not to persecute the photographer.

    Freedom of expression must not be curtailed. When the voices of artists and journalists are silenced, governments can inflict any injustice on their people and no one can speak out.

    Photographs are important. Some photographs have changed history, including photographs of migrant workers during the Great Depression, photos of the Vietnam War, a photo of a man standing before a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, or the Abu Ghraib photos.

    Photographs matter.

    I have included contact information on my blog for the Uzbekistan government for those who wish to make their voices heard, as well as a sample letter you can use. The only way to prevent this sort of persecution is to let them know that we are watching and we care.

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