Uzbekistan: Sentencing Of Independent Journalist Ms Elena Bondar
On 6 April 2012, Ms Elena Bondar was found guilty by Yunusabadsky district court of Tashkent on charges of the 'manufacture, possession or distribution of materials that promote national, racial, ethnic or religious hatred' under Article 184-3 of the Administrative Code of Uzbekistan and sentenced to a fine of 6.900.000 sum (approximately USD$3700). Elena Bondar is an independent journalist who reports on various social issues in Uzbekistan. She also collaborates with the news agency fergananews.com.
On 5 April 2012, Elena Bondar received a phone call from investigative police officer Mr Bakhrom Dakudziev who informed her that her trial would take place at 4:00 pm the following day. In violation of legal proceedings, Elena Bondar did not receive a written summons to attend the court hearing.
On 30 March 2012, Elena Bondar had been summoned to the general police department of Tashkent where she was orally accused of 'incitement of national, racial, ethnic or religious hatred' under Article 156 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan. She was falsely accused of being the author of certain articles and of intending to publish an interview 'defaming the people of Uzbekistan'.
The accusations refer to a journalistic investigation that Elena Bondar had conducted in October 2011 after fergananews.com received a letter about the alleged future closure of the branch of the Russian Tyumen State University in Uzbekistan (TSU), which would affect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Uzbekistan. Elena Bondar went to the University to verify the information however, when she was told by the representative of the Uzbek branch of TSU, Ms Olga Starkova, that the information was false, she abandoned the investigation and did not publish any articles on the issue. A few weeks later a letter similar to that received by fergananews.com appeared on the website of opposition news agency uznews.com. The letter was signed by Olga Starkova and denounced the policies of the Uzbek authorities, claiming that they are destroying the education system and are forcibly sending medical staff and students to the cotton fields. Elena Bondar called Olga Starkova and asked about the letter, and stated that she was not the author of the news piece. Elena Bondar subsequently received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as Pavel Safin, a representative of the Uzbek branch of the TSU. He accused Elena Bondar of leading a campaign against the University and of being the author of the letters in question.
On 30 January 2012, the website of the movement Tadjik Labour Workers published an appeal from Pavel Safin to the chief editor of fergananews.com Daniil Kislov, accusing him and Elena Bondar of leading a defamation campaign against the TSU branch.
Three days later, an article signed by Olga Starkova accused Elena Bondar of provoking the TSU and of inciting a conflict situation. After the publication of these articles, Elena Bondar was summoned to the general police department of Tashkent where she learned that a complaint had been lodged against her by Pavel Safin and that she could face charges under Article 156 of the Criminal Code or, if she co-operated, under Article 184-3 of the Administrative Code of Uzbekistan.
Front Line Defenders expresses concern at the sentencing of Elena Bondar based on unfounded allegations. Front Line Defenders believes that her conviction is being used as a punishment for Elena Bondar's human rights work in particular her work as an independent journalist in Uzbekistan.
Front Line urges the authorities in Uzbekistan to:
- Immediately and unconditionally overturn the conviction of Elena Bondar, as Front Line Defenders believes that this conviction is solely motivated by her work as an independent journalist in Uzbekistan;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that journalists in Uzbekistan are able to carry out their work independently and free of any restrictions or arbitrary interference from Government entities;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Uzbekistan are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all undue restrictions.