Civil Liberties

One Frown Over the Line


Yesterday Uzbek photographer Umida Akhnedova was convicted of slandering and insulting her people. Her crime consisted of taking pictures, such as the one on the right, that government officials thought made Uzbekistan look bad. Among other things, The New York Times reports, Akhnedova was accused of "showing people with sour expressions or bowed heads, children in ragged clothing, old people begging for change or other images so dreary that, according to a panel of experts convened by the prosecutors, 'a foreigner unfamiliar with Uzbekistan will conclude that this is a country where people live in the Middle Ages'" (a misleading impression, since the Spanish Inquisition never persecuted people for taking photographs). The government also charged that Akhnedova's 2008 documentary about the Uzbek custom of verifying a bride's virginity is "not in line with the requirements of ideology" and "promotes serious perversion in the young generation's acceptance of cultural values." Although her crime is punishable by up to three years in prison, the judge let her go, officially to celebrate the 18th anniversary of Uzbek independence but possibly also because the publicity surrounding the case was tarnishing Uzbekistan's reputation (no mean feat). "As Russian media picked up the story," the Times notes, "it became clear that the case reflected badly on Uzbek officials." Doesn't that mean the prosecutors are guilty of slandering the Uzbek people?