International media-freedom watchdogs are urging an Uzbek court to overturn the conviction of a blogger who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison on "trumped-up" extortion and slander charges.
A court in the southern Surxondaryo region handed down the sentence against Otabek Sattoriy on May 10 in a case denounced by rights defenders as retaliation by the authorities for his critical reporting.
The 40-year-old Sattoriy has insisted that the case against him was "based on lies."
Sattoriy's lawyer said he intended to appeal the conviction.
The authorities should "immediately release Otabek Sattoriy, not contest his appeal, and allow all journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal," according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Sattoriy's conviction "is a clear attempt to frighten the press away from covering sensitive issues" ahead of a presidential election in October, Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the "fabricated" accusations against the blogger "testify to a desire to quell local corruption scandals and intimidate critical voices."
The Paris-based group noted that since his arrest in late January, Sattoriy had been ordered to pay a fine of 9.8 million soms ($931) for "slander" and "insult" in a separate case.
The Prosecutor-General's Office has rejected criticism by human rights organizations, saying that Sattoriy's arrest was lawful.
The blogger 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."
RSF said criminal proceedings were also brought against two journalists from the independent Effect.uz website in early April after they approached the judge to attend the blogger's trial. Elyor Tojiboev and Aqbar Nurumbetov were charged with "resisting a representative of the authorities" and "interfering with the investigation."
Another blogger, Behruz Nematov, was kidnapped in broad daylight on April 2 by unknown individuals who kept him for four hours and beat him with a baton, demanding that he stop covering the trial.
Uzbekistan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.