TASHKENT -- The Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office has said a criminal case against Otabek Sattoriy, a video blogger critical of the regional government, is "lawful," while rights watchdogs say the case is fabricated and have urged Tashkent to immediately release him.
In its February 11 statement, the Prosecutor-General's Office said that special inspections had not revealed any wrongdoings by the Interior Ministry's directorate in the southern Surxondaryo region, where the 40-year-old founder and editor of the video blog Halq Fikiri (People's Opinion) was arrested in lateJanuary.
"A criminal case launched against Otabek Sattoriy is based on complaints related to seven episodes, which are currently being investigated," the statement said, without giving any other details of the case.
The statement added that since his arrest on January 29, Sattoriy, who streamed on Telegram and YouTube, has already been tried in a separate case and was found guilty of defamation, insult, and distribution of false information. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, a court in the city of Termiz ordered the blogger to pay a fine after finding him guilty.
Sattoriy's relatives told RFE/RL earlier that he was charged with extorting money and stealing mobile phones from unspecified individuals. If found guilty, Sattoriy may face up to 10 years in prison.
Sattoriy has been known as a harsh critic of the regional governor Tora Bobolov. In one of his recent postings, Sattoriy openly accused the local government of launching fabricated criminal cases against bloggers and vowed to continue to raise the issue of corruption among officials despite the "crackdown."
Media-freedom watchdogs have condemned Sattoriy's arrest.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on February 11 that the charges against the blogger were aimed at silencing his reporting on local corruption.
"This is yet another attempt to silence critical voices in Uzbekistan," Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in the statement.
"We firmly condemn the use of fabricated charges with the aim of covering up local corruption, and we call on the authorities to release this blogger at once and to drop all proceedings against him," Cavelier added.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month called for Sattoriy's release, saying that "the persecution of bloggers and citizen journalists for their reporting on corruption violates their constitutional rights."
RSF said that despite a "relative improvement" in press freedom since President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over the Central Asian country in 2016, "critical journalists and bloggers are still often imprisoned, and extortion charges are still often used to silence dissent."
Uzbekistan is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.