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Uzbekistan jails anti-corruption blogger, six and half-yrs

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A COURT in Uzbekistan has sentenced a blogger, Otabek Sattoriy known for speaking out on corruption to six and half years in jail on extortion and libel charges, his lawyer announced today.

  The case of Sattoriy, a popular video blogger from the southern town of Termez in the Central Asian country, was widely viewed as a test for authorities who according to Rights groups have been clamping down on free speech ahead of a leadership election in October.

  A court in the southern Surkhondaryo region sentenced Sattoriy to six years and six months in jail on Monday, lawyer Umidbek Davlatov told AFP, calling the verdict “completely unfair” and pledging to appeal.

  “We don’t know for the moment on what precise basis the court ruled to send him to jail,” Davlatov told AFP by telephone.

  Sattoriy is one of a number of bloggers who have gained loyal followings during the last few years as freedoms were relaxed somewhat under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who styles himself as a reformer.

  Rights groups have pointed to cases against Sattoriy and other bloggers as well as harsh new laws punishing online criticism as signs that the former Soviet Republic is sliding back into its hardline past.

  Sattoriy’s videos on YouTube and Telegram saw him regularly criticise top officials in provincial Termez, highlight the high cost of food prices at bazaars and allege corruption at a state gas company.

 In a statement released yesterday, the ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ called the charges against Sattoriy “trumped-up” and a clear attempt to frighten the press away from covering sensitive issues as presidential elections grow near.

  Mirziyoyev, 63, is expected to face only token candidates in the October presidential vote, continuing a tradition established by his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov.

  It will be recalled that Karimov, under whom Mirziyoyev served as prime minister for 13 years, was famous for his authoritarian excesses and intolerance of dissent, which saw government critics tortured during long stints in jail.

  Source says, Mirziyoyev has publically disavowed torture and clamped down on forced labour while opening the country up to tourism, but has continued to honour Karimov’s memory and distaste for opposition.

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