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Uzbekistan: Call for amnesty for human rights defender Mr Maksim Popov, sentenced to seven years in prison in 2009
On 9 June 2009, human rights defender Mr Maksim Popov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Maksim Popov is a psychologist and Executive Director of Izis, a non-governmental organisation conducting programs such as individual and group counselling, provision of sterile needles, and training on HIV/AIDS in Uzbekistan.
Izis has worked on projects supported by UNDP, UNAIDS, Global Fund, UNICEF, USAID, World Bank, and DFID and assisted AIDS patients and drug users through motivational interviewing, counselling, outreach, auricular acupuncture, and phytotherapy.
Maksim Popov is reportedly serving his prison term at Penal Colony No.6 in Navoi oblast of Uzbekistan. On 10 May 2010, 90 international organisations, including Front Line, have sent an open letter to international agencies calling on them to support amnesty for Maksim Popov. The text of the letter is available at Full Text of Letter
Maksim Popov was arrested on 22 January 2009 and charged with embezzlement of funds received from international donors, tax evasion, and “involving underage persons in anti-social behaviour” (counselling teachers on HIV prevention methods). Maksim Popov was reportedly tortured, mistreated, and subjected to extortion attempts by police during the pretrial detention. Maksim Popov's trial was held during a closed hearing and no information was available about his case at the time.
On 9 June 2009, Chilanzar District Criminal Court of Tashkent city found him guilty of “larceny by embezzlement” under Article 167, part 3; “concealment of foreign currency” under Article 178, part 2; “taxes or other payments evasion” under Article 184, part 3; “abuse of power or office” under Article 205, parts 1 and 2; “forgery in office” under Article 209, part 1; “inducing of juvenile in antisocial conduct” under Article 127, part 3; “vicious acts in respect of person aged under sixteen years” under Article 129, part 1; “involvement in use of narcotic or psychotropic substances” under Article 274, part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The Court condemned him to seven years imprisonment.
The charges of fiscal impropriety came in the wake of Uzbek government campaigns of harassment against NGOs through blocking their access to foreign grants. The financial charges were based primarily on the results of an inspection of Izis by the Audit Office which is part of the Ministry of Finance.
The monitoring of Izis by the Audit Office is of questionable legitimacy, since the Commission is charged with monitoring the implementation of the State budget, not that of private organisations. Izis has not received any funds from the State. The charges against Izis have not been recognised by the organisation's international donors.
The other charges against Maksim Popov refer to the distribution of HIV prevention text-books and leaflets by Izis. The court sentence refers to one particular publication, the text-book ‘Healthy lifestyles. Guidance for Teachers XXI’ published in Almaty in 2003 and imported to Uzbekistan by Population Services International (PSI). It was already the 3rd edition of this book, funded by USAID. The previous editions (2001) were funded by UNDP and UNAIDS.
The court verdict considered the book to be “in open defiance of the national customs and traditions”. The court verdict also referred to homosexuality as “categorically incompatible with the mentality, and moral customs of the society, religion, and traditions of the Uzbek people.”
Front Line believes that the sentencing and continued detention of Maksim Popov are part of an emerging trend of persecution of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan who oppose the newly fostered state ideology presenting the patriarchal values and customary social norms as part of the national identity of the Uzbek people.
Similar charges have been recently brought against independent journalist Ms Umida Akhmedova, who was also accused of producing artistic materials at odds with State-endorsed ‘national values’. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Maksim Popov while in detention.