It is not then at all surprising that the world should learn about the January 2009 imprisonment of Maksim Popov, a 27-year-old Tashkent-based psychologist and HIV/AIDS prevention activist, 13 months after the fact.
As a head of the nongovernmental group Izis, Popov worked on
educating risk groups on ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and STDs. According
to the independent news Web sites Uznews
The heavy sentence stems from Popov’s distribution of an
HIV/AIDS prevention brochure titled “The Healthy Way of Life: a Manual for
Teachers of the 21st Century.” The brochure was published in
But Uzbek “experts” on national traditions found the brochure offensive. According to the court verdict, obtained by CPJ, “from 2006 to 2007, with the goal of conducting sexual abuse against people under 16 years of age, [Popov] deliberately distributed these brochures, which contain texts that tell minors about sexual activities, carry propaganda of homosexuality and prostitution, as well as pornographic images.”
Further, the state-appointed experts declared:
“The brochure is extremely harmful and its goal is to discredit our educational system. [Its] entire content focuses on the idea that such phenomena as prostitution, homosexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases are widespread among contemporary youth. Such a claim carries extremely defamatory character in regards to contemporary youth, including our own. ... The brochure does not contain any information on spirituality, morality, and the cultural and national traditions of our country. Moreover, it demonstrates a blatant disregard to national customs and the traditions of the Orient. … The brochure implies that schoolchildren engage in sexual activity and talks about contraceptives. … [It] should be banned from distribution.”
In a definitive move, the
The embezzlement and concealment of funds charges against Popov stem from the grant money his organization received from international donors; Popov denied both charges. In court, the prosecution produced no evidence about any of the indictments and had no plaintiff present. It is unclear who filed the charges against Popov.
The recent case of photojournalist and filmmaker Umida Akhmedova—who was convicted of defaming national traditions through her photographs—and now that of Maksim Popov are alarming indicators of Uzbekistan’s disregard for basic human rights and freedom. The arbitrary use of vague national traditions as a weapon of mass repression against independent-minded individuals is illegal, even by Uzbek standards. The country’s criminal code contains no such provision.
Thanks to an intense international outcry, including advocacy by CPJ, Akhmedova’s criminal prosecution ended in her amnesty last month. Such an outcry is now badly needed to ensure Popov’s release.