Licensing / Media Regulation
The Case of Patrick Chitongo
Closed Contracts Expression
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On June 28, 2014, a Tashkent court of first instance passed a summary judgment against Said and fined him just over $4,100 (official exchange rate) for violating articles 165 (operating without a license or permit) and 184 (preparing or keeping information threatening public security and order, with the aim of disseminating that information) of the Uzbek Administrative Code. The court effectively ruled that any person who who is not accredited as a journalist cannot collect and disseminates information without a license, may not be considered a journalist, and can be penalized.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
Said Abdurakhimov who writes under the pseudonym Sid Yanyshev is an independent Uzbek journalist. According to Reporters Without Borders, he is one of the last in Uzbekistan. He often covers government corruption.
On June 26, 2014, Abdurakhimov was interrogated by the Uzbek authorities about an article he wrote in May of that year. The article was about unfair compensation of residents of Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, who were forcefully relocated for the purposes of constructing a highway. On June 27, in the evening, Said was served with a court summons for a hearing on June 28, 2014. The hearing was set on a Saturday, which is generally a day-off for the court. The court summons did not specify the purpose for Said’s presence in court.
On arrival to court on June 28, 2014, Said requested to be familiarized with the case and to be provided with legal representation. The court gave Said one hour to familiarize himself with the case and identified two government lawyers to represent Said.
Said learned that the case against him was initiated on the basis of a complaint from five persons he interviewed for his article. The five claimed that Said falsified their statements. Their claims were supported by the Director of the Anti-Terrorism Department of the Ministry of Interior.
Said’s main defense was that Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan allows him to collect and disseminate information. The court did not address his defense.
Based on witness and expert testimony, the Tashkent court passed a summary judgment against Said for violating article 165 and 184 of the Uzbek administrative code. Article 165 requires a permit or license to work as a journalist. Article 184 concerns possession and dissemination of information that threatens public order.
The prosecution’s case was built around witness testimonies. One witness, a reporter from a State TV-channel, declared that Said did not have a right to work as a journalist because he was not accredited. She also claimed independent journalism did not exist in Uzbekistan, and thus persons who were not accredited could not be called journalists. Two other witness testimonies were from the government Agency for Media Monitoring and a union of documentary makers. Both stated that they have no knowledge of Said’s work as journalist. The witness testimonies were enough for the court to establish that Said was not recognized as a journalist.
Said presented a Constitutional defense for his actions, citing Article 29 of the Uzbek Constitution. The Article states, “Everyone shall have the right to seek, obtain, and disseminate any information, except that which is directed against the existing constitutional system and in some other instances specified by law.” The Court, whoever, did not address his defense.
In its decision the court highlighted that in addition to not being accredited, Said lacked certain standards for objectivity and fact checking required of journalists.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Uzbekistan is one of the most authoritarian states in the world. Freedom House, an American based NGO, gave Uzbekistan a rating of 95 out of 100 for freedom of the press, with 100 being the worst. This decision highlights the pitfalls of an accreditation regime in authoritarian nations. If used arbitrarily, requiring journalist accreditation limits the ability to gather and disseminate information.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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