Embattled reporter prevented from leaving Uzbekistan

New York, May 25, 2011–Uzbek authorities must stop harassing Abdumalik Boboyev, a stringer for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, and allow him to leave Uzbekistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Uzbek authorities barred Boboyev from traveling to Germany by denying him the exit visa required for travel outside Uzbekistan, according to the independent news website Uznews and the Uzbek service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Boboyev filed his application to travel on March 2 and was denied it in early April. He is barred from travelling because he was prosecuted last fall on trumped-up defamation charges, Uznews said.

Following his politicized trial in October, during which Boboyev was declared guilty of “libel and insulting the Uzbek people” in his articles, he was ordered to pay a fine. Soon after, he obtained a scholarship from the Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted, Uznews reported. He intended to join the year-long program in Germany on April 1 but now he is unable to leave Uzbekistan.

“Uzbek authorities must end their ongoing harassment of our colleague Abdumalik Boboyev, and grant him permission to leave the country,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “The trial against the journalist is long over–all the sanctions against him must be lifted immediately.”

In September, prosecutors in the Uzbek capital Tashkent charged Boboyev with separate counts of libel, insult, illegal entry to Uzbekistan, and “production and distribution of materials that contain threats to public security and order,” according to CPJ interviews and press reports. Authorities indicted Boboyev in retaliation for his critical reporting on the widespread government corruption, human rights abuses, the weak economy and flaws in the Uzbek healthcare system, he told CPJ at the time.  

Boboyev faced up to 15 years in jail had he been convicted of the charges. Following an international outcry and protests, including by CPJ, in October a Tashkent court declared Boboyev guilty but did not jail him. Instead, the court ordered him to only pay a fine of 18 million Uzbek sum (around US$8,000). Authorities denied his subsequent appeals, however, and Boboyev has paid the fine in full, Uznews reported.