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'Gangster Techniques': Attempt To Oust Female Politician With Sex Video Backfires On Uzbek Police

Feruza Babasheva says the video was an attempt to obstruct her work as a lawmaker.
Feruza Babasheva says the video was an attempt to obstruct her work as a lawmaker.

TASHKENT -- An Uzbek politician known for her criticism of officials is accusing Tashkent police of "threats" and "blackmail" after a sex video purportedly involving her was distributed on social media.

Feruza Babasheva, a member of Tashkent's Orta Chirchiq district council from the ruling People's Democratic Party, was stripped of her legislative immunity at the city prosecutor's request on November 22.

"They tried hard but couldn't find any...greediness or corruption in my work," Babasheva told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "So, in the end they opted for this very, very low and mean method [to discredit me.]"

It appears an official campaign against the outspoken lawmaker has been in the making for at least several weeks.

The Prosecutor's Office earlier this month demanded that Babasheva appear in court as a defendant in a defamation case filed against her by the head of a major bank. She had criticized Agrobank for charging teachers 1 percent commission when they withdrew cash, calling it a "thievish" action.

Just days later, on November 15, a video appeared online that allegedly showed the 43-year-old married lawmaker in bed with an unknown man.

Tashkent police issued a statement the next day stating that law enforcement agents had raided a house that was being used as a brothel after neighbors complained to officials. They said that during the raid on October 2 they had found a man and woman -- identified by their initials D.S. and F.B. -- "having sexual intercourse."

The statement added that police were investigating how a "video recording from the raid" was placed on social media.

Babasheva admitted being on the premises at the time but said the video had been "doctored."

She told RFE/RL on November 23 that the video was an attempt to obstruct her work as a lawmaker. "This would have never happened to me if I had not been a lawmaker," Babasheva said. "It doesn't happen to other legislators who, [unlike me], refrain from criticism."

Revenge For Her Work?

Babasheva apologized to the public amid overwhelming support from many people -- including bloggers and fellow deputies -- who accused the police of invading her privacy.

In a tearful appeal on Facebook and statement on her Telegram account, Babasheva claimed that during the raid police officers held her for three hours while letting others leave the building.

Babasheva arrives for a meeting of the district council's Ethics Committee on November 22.
Babasheva arrives for a meeting of the district council's Ethics Committee on November 22.

According to Babasheva, five male officers pressured her and even "broke" her finger while trying to force her to sign a letter that she would remain silent. It is not clear if they wanted her to remain silent about the raid or something else.

Babasheva accused the police of using "threats" and "blackmail" during the raid. The lawmaker claimed that the campaign against her had been ongoing since she was elected to the local council two years ago. She said her car has been rammed and her family members threatened.

Babasheva said law enforcement agencies and other local officials were not happy with her "honest work" trying to help ordinary people in her constituency and to defend their rights. "They haven't been able to find any wrongdoing in my work as a lawmaker," she said.

Babasheva said that the authorities want lawmakers who obediently "approve" every bill, "clap" during council sessions, and don't challenge the government.

An avid social-media user, Babasheva often goes live on Facebook while meeting officials to discuss problems pointed out by citizens.

There have been a wide range of issues and complaints she has tried to address -- a shortage of electricity in some neighborhoods, a disabled woman's appeal to get municipal housing, or a request by some parents to prevent a school from being illegally sold to a well-connected entrepreneur.

Babasheva often demands a response from the authorities and criticizes their inaction. She even targeted Senate Chairwoman Tanzila Norboeva, who had said electricity outages in Uzbekistan were a thing of "history."

In a Telegram post titled So It's A Lie, Then? Babasheva posted various videos of ordinary Uzbeks sitting in dark rooms and complaining about electricity rationing.

So It's A Lie, Then?
So It's A Lie, Then?

Criticism is not tolerated in the authoritarian Central Asian state, but Babasheva garnered widespread support and sympathy from people who described the sex video as an act of revenge for her outspokenness.

Public Support

But if the sex video was made to discredit Babasheva, it seems to have backfired.

While disapproving of the married mother's possible unfaithfulness, many on social media condemned the authorities for going to such great lengths to attack her. "The government once again demonstrated that is does not tolerate brave people in its ranks," Tashkent resident Farida Charif wrote on Facebook.

Another person commented that the authorities used "gangster" methods to deliberately target Babasheva. "It was a hunt and there was a trap set to get a person -- it's disgusting to set a trap for someone, but people in power like doing this -- it's a gangster technique," Bashit Ziatdinov wrote.

Bella Sabirova from Tashkent wrote that "it's up to people to decide whether to elect [Babasheva] again next time."

"[Her status] is not up to government officials. Also, the police shouldn't be sneaking into private homes with cameras and posting videos on the Internet. Her body, her choice," Sabirova wrote on Facebook.

Many Uzbeks tried to encourage Babasheva to continue her work.

"The fight shouldn't end. This sister must not give up. She has to take action to reveal corruption by government officials.... The only way for you is forward," wrote Ghairat Qalandar.

"It's not YOU who has lost," Zulfia Zhumaniazova wrote.

Meanwhile, a member of Uzbekistan's parliament, Rasul Kusherbaev, has called for the police officers involved in Babasheva's case to be brought to justice for violating her privacy.

"What has happened to [Babasheva] shows that in our society it's still possible, unfortunately, to use vile and illegal ways to discredit a person," he wrote on Telegram.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report
  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

    RFE/RL's Uzbek Service relies on innovation and a wide network of local sources and platforms to uncover news and engage with audiences in one of the world’s most restrictive societies.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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