Miraziz Bazarov charged with defamation in violation of international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression – OpEd – Eurasia Review
Miraziz Bazarov, a vocal critic of government policies and the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, has been under house arrest since April 29, 2021. On September 27, 2021, the Uzbek authorities formally charged him with defamation – under the law. article 139, part 3, point g of the Penal Code, which is punishable by fines equivalent to 10,800 euros, up to 400 hours of community service or three years of restriction of liberty which may include a house arrest or travel restrictions. The defense lawyer will not be allowed to see the official documents of the criminal case until October 7 or 8, 2021.
The International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) believe the charges are politically motivated and aim to punish the 30-year-old blogger for have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression. We urge the authorities in Uzbekistan to quickly drop the criminal charges against Miraziz Bazarov and release him unconditionally.
Until the end of March 2021, Miraziz Bazarov was an active blogger whose social media posts attracted a lot of attention. In 2020, Bazarov criticized the lack of transparency and public control over the government’s use of COVID-19-related loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). His pro-LGBTI messages included double standards among Uzbek officials. Numerous Uzbek supporters of so-called traditional values have launched violent threats, including death threats against the blogger; none of them have been held responsible for these threats.
Bazarov’s attackers have not been brought to justice
On March 28, 2021, Bazarov was physically assaulted by masked men on his way to his girlfriend’s house in Tashkent. He was admitted to the No. 1 Republican Clinical Hospital in Tashkent to receive medical treatment for his injuries and was monitored around the clock. While authorities claimed it was done to protect his safety, the groups human rights advocates believe that their main objective was to limit its ability to communicate with the outside world and to continue its activities on social networks. No cell phone with Internet access was allowed in his hospital room.
On the day of the attack, the police opened an investigation against him under an article of the Penal Code which punishes the infliction of “intentional bodily harm of moderate severity by a group of persons” (Article 105, part 2, paragraph “i” of the Criminal Code). The case was subsequently reclassified as “intentional serious bodily harm committed by a group of persons” (Article 104, part 2, para. “K”). Bazarov’s supporters allege that the investigation is not conducted impartially and effectively. To our knowledge, no one has yet been charged with the attack on Bazarov.
Bazarov charged with “defamation” and placed under house arrest
On the evening of April 28, Miraziz Bazarov was questioned by Tashkent city police officers and informed that he was suspected of “slander through mass media for selfish or other motives” under the Article 139, part 3g of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which, in an amendment to the Criminal Code of June 25, 2020, now provides for a sentence of between 81,000,000 and 135,000,000 Uzbek som (equivalent to approximately 6,490 to 10,800 EUR or US $ 7,600 to 12,665) from 360 to 400 hours of community service or restriction of liberty for up to three years.
After Bazarov was released from the hospital on April 29, 2021, a local court immediately sanctioned his house arrest by strictly limiting his contact with the outside world. Since that day, he has not been allowed to leave his home except in a medical emergency; be in contact with friends, acquaintances or neighbors; use social networks; or to engage in any type of correspondence. He is only authorized to use a landline in exceptional cases to contact his lawyer or the police or in the event of a medical emergency.
On April 30, 2021, the Tashkent City Police Department reported on its website that it had received 28 complaints from citizens about Miraziz Bazarov’s social media posts. One of them was a complaint from several teachers at School No.110 in the Mirabad district of the capital, saying that Bazarov had “denigrated their honor and dignity” by showing a TikTok video in which he called out to them. parents not to send their children to school and said that “school is where older women slaves and losers teach children to be slaves and losers”. At the same time, Bazarov was only expressing his personal opinion.
On May 8, 2021, Bazarov opened a criminal investigation against Bazarov for “defamation” in connection with the teachers’ complaints.
On July 27, the Mirabad District Court in Tashkent extended his period of house arrest until September 29. Bazarov’s lawyer Sergey Mayorov has twice appealed the ruling listing several procedural violations and procedural inconsistencies in this case. In particular, he stressed that the court had not explained why the investigation needed more time to justify an extension of the blogger’s house arrest. He added that Bazarov had not been questioned since the end of April and that investigators had gathered no evidence to prove or disprove his guilt. Further, he said that the court’s decision on Bazarov’s house arrest was itself unlawful because a prosecutor’s order was missing from the case file and in fact, Bazarov should never have been. sentenced to house arrest in the first place given the charges he faces.
On September 27, 2021, Bazarov was formally charged with slander against one of the teachers on the basis of an expert report conducted during the investigation. Little is yet known about the nature of the expertise and will only be known when Bazarov and his defense lawyer are able to see the elements of the criminal case on October 7 or 8, 2021.
On September 28, 2021, Bazarov’s lawyer Sergei Mayorov said: “Despite the fact that there is no convincing evidence against Miraziz Bazarov, the state expert hired to assess the legality of his social media posts made a conclusion, the investigator brought the charges, the prosecutor approved them and the judge will hand down the sentence… this is a typical example of the lack of independence of the criminal justice system in Uzbekistan”. ‘
According to information from the AHRCA, witnesses interviewed as part of the investigation into the Bazarov case were forced to testify against him.