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Uzbek Blogger Critical Of Government Gets Lengthy Prison Term

Uzbek blogger Otabek Sattoriy (file photo)

XALQOBOD, Uzbekistan -- A court in Uzbekistan's southern Surxondaryo region has sentenced blogger Otabek Sattoriy to 6 1/2 years in prison in a high-profile extortion and slander case that has sparked harsh criticism of the country by domestic and international human rights groups.

The Muzrabot district court pronounced the ruling on May 10. Last week, a prosecutor asked the court to sentence the blogger to 11 years in prison.

The 40-year-old blogger faced a number of charges, including extortion and slander, which his supporters and rights defenders have characterized as retaliation by the authorities for his critical reporting.

Sattoriy, whose trial started in March, has insisted that the case against him was "based on lies."

Sattoriy is known to be a harsh critic of the regional governor, Tora Bobolov. In one post on 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 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 has 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 organization's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Uzbekistan to repeal recent legal amendments that the group says "deepen restrictions" on online speech ahead of a planned presidential election in October.

The changes introduce prison sentences for crimes such as insulting or defaming the president online and making online calls for "mass disturbances." They also make it an offense to publish statements online calling on people to violate the law and threaten public order, or show "disrespect" to the state.

President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over as the head of Central Asia's most-populous state after authoritarian leader Islam Karimov's death was announced in September 2016.

Mirziyoev has since positioned himself as a reformer, releasing political prisoners and opening his country to its neighbors and the outside world, although many activists say the changes have not gone nearly far enough.