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Uzbek Prosecutor Seeks 11 Years In Prison For Blogger Critical Of Government

Otabek Sattoriy had vowed to continue to raise the issue of corruption among officials despite a "crackdown."
Otabek Sattoriy had vowed to continue to raise the issue of corruption among officials despite a "crackdown."

XALQOBOD, Uzbekistan -- A prosecutor in Uzbekistan's southern Surxondaryo region has asked a court to sentence blogger Otabek Sattoriy to 11 years in prison in a high-profile extortion and slander case that has drawn harsh criticism from domestic and international human rights groups.

The prosecutor said in a statement at the Muzrabot district court during closing arguments on May 4 that Sattoriy "does not deserve a mitigated punishment," since he has refused to accept blame and has not paid compensation to his alleged victims.

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

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 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 spreading 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.

Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Uzbekistan to repeal recent legal amendments that the group said "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 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.