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Controversy Over Uzbekistan Intrudes At Cannes AIDS Benefit

Uzbek AIDS activist Maksim Popov
Liz Taylor and Giorgio Armani were among the notable guests who were expected to attend the celebrity fund-raising event Cinema Against AIDS in Cannes last night. It's become one of the big social events of the annual film festival and last year raised $4.5 million for AIDS research.

But the thought of one guest walking the red carpet at the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc had an international media freedom organization raising red flags.

Gulnara Karimova
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote an open letter to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR), the sponsor of the event, saying it was "astonished" that an invitation had been given to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of authoritarian Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

In the letter, RSF points out that 27-year-old Uzbek activist Maksim Popov had recently been “sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing information about the fight against AIDS, a virus that is wreaking havoc in Uzbekistan, as it is elsewhere.”

Popov’s leaflets about how to stem the spread of HIV-AIDS were, according to RSF, deemed by an Uzbek court as being “contrary to the mentality and moral basis of the Uzbek people’s society, religion, culture, and traditions.” RSF points out that homosexuality is a crime in Uzbekistan, as is discussing condoms with anyone underage.

RSF reminded AmfAR about Uzbekistan’s bleak human rights record and said, “As ambassador to Spain and Switzerland, Gulnara Karimova is therefore her country's...spokesperson for the harsh policies carried out by her father.”

RSF called on the sponsors of Cinema Against AIDS to demand that Karimova “publicly support the release of Maksim Popov and all human rights defenders, including journalists, who are in detention.”

RSF asked, “Are Sharon Stone, Giorgio Armani, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few, aware of the Uzbek political context? Do they approve of the policy towards human rights defenders and the repression of AIDS prevention?”

In response, Kevin Frost, AmfAR's chief executive officer, said the foundation held a meeting with Karimova "who has agreed to take steps to clarify the situation and to work with AmfAR on the matter."

-- Bruce Pannier