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Photographer On Trial For Showing Uzbekistan's Unglamorous Side

A photo from Umida Ahmedova's "Woman and Man: From Dawn till Night"
(RFE/RL) -- A prominent Uzbek photographer and film director has gone on trial in Tashkent for her work, deemed by the Uzbek authorities to be "insulting" and "damaging to the country's image."

Umida Ahmedova, 54, has been charged with defamation for her collection of photos, "Woman and Man: From Dawn till Night," documenting the lives and hardships of Uzbek villagers, as well as her documentary film, "The Burden of Virginity," which focuses on Uzbek wedding and marriage customs.

If found guilty, Ahmedova faces up to two years in a labor camp or six months in prison.

She rejects the charges as "groundless," saying her works merely reflect Uzbekistan's customs and traditions.

In Paris, the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) has launched a campaign in her support, calling on the Uzbek authorities to acquit her. The organization's appeal was signed by nearly 1,000 artists, art critics, journalists, and rights activists from around the world.

'Expert Panel'

Ahmedova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service today that she did not mean to offend anyone. "It has never occurred to me that my photos would be deemed slander to my country and my nation," she said. "It's a very difficult time for me now, in many ways."

Umida Ahmedova (file photo)
Ahmedova was initially arrested and charged on December 16. Last month, authorities presented Ahmedova's lawyer with the findings of a panel of experts who studied her film and photos.

The panel accused Ahmedova of portraying Uzbek people's lives and their traditions in a negative light, giving an impression that Uzbeks are "barbarians" living in the Middle Ages.

(See a slideshow of her photos here.)

Both Ahmedova's photo collection and her film were financed by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent.

Controversial Film

The documentary "The Burden of Virginity" was presented by Ahmedova and her film director husband, Oleg Karpov, shortly before International Women's Day in March 2009.

The two-part film features Uzbeks' tradition of giving enormous significance to a bride's virginity on her wedding night.

The documentary shows how many young couples break up straight after the wedding night because the bride has lost her virginity before marriage.

The film features a woman who says she was sent back to her parents' home after the first night by the groom's family because she wasn't a virgin.

Because of the disgrace the lack of virginity brought to her and her family, the woman, now in her 30s, hasn't been able to find a partner and rebuild her life since.

Uzbek reaction to "The Burden of Virginity" has been mixed, and some critics have found it controversial. Officials at the Swiss Embassy have since distanced themselves from the film.

Ahmedova's photographs have been exhibited in Tbilisi and Copenhagen among other places. She has won several awards for her work, including the 2004 Grand Prix in Russia's Inter-Press-Photo contest.

A graduate of the Soviet Union's prestigious Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, Ahmedova was Uzbekistan's first female filmmaker.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report. With regional media reports

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