New York, February 8, 2021 – Uzbek authorities should immediately release journalist Otabek Sattoriy, drop all charges against him, and allow him to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 30, in the southern city of Termez, a group of plain-clothed police officers detained Sattoriy, a blogger who covers alleged local corruption on his Telegram and YouTube accounts, both named Xalq Fikri (“The People’s Opinion”), according to news reports as well as his father, Abdumannon Sattoriy, and his lawyer, Shavkat Shakirov, both of whom spoke with CPJ in phone interviews. CPJ was unable to view his Telegram channel, which has been taken down.
On February 1, a Termez criminal court charged Sattoriy with extortion and placed him in pretrial detention, Shakirov told CPJ. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison, according to Uzbek law.
The blogger denies any guilt, according to Shakirov, who said that he believes the charges against Sattoriy are fabricated.
“Authorities in Uzbekistan should immediately release blogger Otabek Sattoriy and drop the trumped-up charges against him,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The persecution of bloggers and citizen journalists for their reporting on corruption violates their constitutional rights. Journalists in Uzbekistan should be able to do their jobs without a fear of being hit with retaliatory charges.”
Following his arrest on January 30, a group of 20 to 30 police officers, who identified themselves as investigators from the local police department, went to the house that Sattoriy shares with his family and parents, his father told CPJ.
The officers told Sattoriy’s family that he was under arrest and, after providing a search warrant, searched the home, confiscating several of Sattoriy’s memory cards, two computers, and some papers that the blogger had in his office, his father said.
Shakirov told CPJ that authorities accuse Sattoriy of extorting a local businessman. He said that, in December 2020, Sattoriy was filming a report about the high prices of products at a local market, and a man tried to prevent him from filming, forcefully taking his phone and then returning it broken. Later, the man reached out to Sattoriy and offered to replace the broken phone; at the moment when the man gave Sattoriy a replacement, police detained the blogger and accused him of extorting the man to get the phone, Shakirov told CPJ.
Shakirov and Abdumannon Sattoriy told CPJ that they believe the blogger is being persecuted because of his journalism. They did not identify any specific work that could have provoked the charges, but Sattoriy’s father told CPJ that it could be connected with his reporting on corruption.
On February 5, the Surxondaryo district criminal court denied Shakirov’s appeal to release Sattoriy on bail, and ordered him to remain in pretrial detention, which can last up to three months, according to Shakirov.
CPJ emailed the Uzbek Ministry of Internal affairs for comment, but did not receive any reply.