TASHKENT -- Uzbek blogger Otabek Sattoriy has pleaded not guilty to all charges at a preliminary hearing in a high-profile extortion and slander case that sparked harsh criticism of Uzbek authorities by domestic and international human rights groups earlier this year.
After Sattoriy, investigators, and witnesses gave statements on March 11, the Muzrabot district court in the southern Surxondaryo region set March 17 as the trial's start date.
Before entering the courtroom, Sattoriy told journalists that his case was fabricated in a country known for its poor treatment of a free press.
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"I reject all the charges. The whole case has been fabricated, based on lies. I did not take any money from anyone. Because I have always raised the problems faced by ordinary people, the case has become high-profile," Sattoriy said.
The 40-year-old blogger was charged with extortion, slander, and insult, which his supporters and rights defenders have characterized as retaliation by the authorities for his critical reporting.
Sattoriy is known to be a harsh critic of the regional governor, Tora Bobolov. In one of his latest posts in his Halq Fikiri (People's Opinion) video blog, 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."
Since his arrest in late January, Sattoriy has been tried in a separate case and was found guilty of defamation and distributing false information. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the blogger was ordered to pay a fine for the offenses.
The Prosecutor-General's Office also rejected criticism by human rights organizations, saying that Sattoriy’s arrest was lawful.
Uzbekistan is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2020 World Press Freedom Index.