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Monday, 25 January 2010

Comments

My knee-jerk reaction to reading this, and viewing the sampling of photographs, is that the members of the special commission, and the government prosecutor should be the ones to receive the sentences. I would hope that Ms. Akhmedova was at least allowed to offer her own interpretation of her artistic/aesthetic intentions.
Apply this kind of thinking, and Dorthea Lange would've been given a prison sentence rather than a job.

It is interesting that the BBC covers this travesty of justice while the UK police engage in arbitrary suppression of photography to protect the realm from terrorists. At least Ms. Akhmedova was able to make and publish the photographs.
bd

I agree, I think her images are lovely and just show real people in real life situations - some of which on the contrary, show a richness and genuineness that so called 'developed' societies have lost.

I do hope the authorities drop her case, these are beautiful images that make me want to visit Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek regime is scary. They machine-gunned thousands of protesters in Andijan without a sliver of hesitation (google "Andijan massacre"), and their secret police is notorious for literally boiling political prisoners alive.

It's a shame because the country has some of the most photogenic architecture in the world in the legendary cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.

We can only hope the best for Ms Akhmedova, but outside pressure is utterly ineffective against a regime of this brutality.

I trust more than one professional photojournalist/human rights organization is lending its voice...

And just when you thought that Borat was soooo exaggerating ;-)

To my way of thinking, this is appalling.

But, although my family is from Eastern Europe, as far as I know I'm not Uzbekian, not even a little bit. So, I have no idea what is or isn't "defamation and insulting" in their culture. (In fact, I don't even know where Uzbek is.) So "my way of thinking" is of no help here.

While we might regret that they don't have the freedoms that Americans have (still strong, however diminished in recent years), we might better use our energy trying to understand the other 90% or so of the world.

Still, I hope she gets off...

--Marc

Apparently harassment of photographers is not exclusive to the U.K.

Please send emails to the Uzbek embassies in your countries, it only takes 5 minutes and it may achieve a lot.

The plight of this photographer may have gone unnoticed by me and probably many if not for this blog. Hear hear.

You can take the people out of communism, but it's not so easy to take communism out of the people. People with authority like to use it, I guess.

She likely doesn't know the "right" people in Uzbekistan, so she's being persecuted. The pictures on display don't seem particularly political, so I wonder what else she's done, either in this project, or in the past. Or does she just have bad luck?

I agree with Fazal. No amount of chest thumping will have any effect on such a backwards regime. If they feel that images of a boy being publicly mutilated (ie. the procedure not being done by a trained professional) are embarrassing then maybe they should should look at modernizing this ritual rather than punish a true representation of a brutal act.

Here's an email I sent to the Usbek embassy:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing concerning the Impending trial of Umida Akhmedova, as reported by the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8473285.stm

As a photographer and believer in Human Rights, I feel it would be a serious injustice to prosecute a photographer for such documentary photography, and an offense against freedom of expression, free press and free speech. I particularly feel it would be unfortunate considering that "Improvement in human rights now a top government priority" (your website: http://www.uzbekistan.org/social_issues/ ).

Also, as a photographer and as someone who has done considerable traveling around the world, I don't understand how the photos accompanying the BBC story defame and insult Uzbek traditions. I saw a series of beautiful photos illustrating a beautiful country with marvelous social customs and sights.

Please pass along my wish that your government reconsider the situation in order to avoid an unfortunate and unjust prosecution.

Sincerely

Time for a GWB-style "regime change", don't you think?

Ideally, this is precisely when a moral and influential country should be able to appeal to a thoroughly repressive regime such as Uzbekistan on humanitarian grounds. In reality, it is precisely why an appeal from the United States government would carry no moral weight whatsoever...

"The United States has worked closely with Uzbekistan, a corrupt and autocratic state with a chilling human rights record, in the fight against international terrorism... But such policies can backfire, improving the martial abilities of units that commit crimes against Uzbek citizens, and associating the United States with repression in the eyes of Uzbek people and the Islamic world."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/18/international/asia/18uzbekistan.html

Interesting that many countries use photographs of rural people in traditional dress to promote their cultural heritage, but the Uzbek government takes such a drastically different view. Not being a social scientist, I can't comment on whether these are defamatory. They just look like objective photojournalism to me.

http://www.gopetition.com/online/33031.html

just to show them that they are being watched

I have to agree with Ron S. The English still nurture this fond belief that the English 'Bobby' is the best in the world. They appear to be walking blindfold into a police state. My wife and I usually take a spring break in London every year. She like to shop, I like to photograph. Not this year. Paris instead.
And they use the Euro there.

"It is interesting that the BBC covers this travesty of justice while the UK police engage in arbitrary suppression of photography to protect the realm from terrorists."

Well to be fair to the BBC, they covered that story too.

I see nothing wrong with the pictures. They are lovely. In my mind it is no disrespect.

Well, referring to Marc´s post, any approach to understanding is usually worthwhile. But those cases of ideological censorship of “mindcrime” by totalitarian regimes rarely ask for understanding but IMO for looking whether for whatever reason a person got on a secret blacklist? The prejudice, underlined by the arbitrary sounding official comments on the photos, might proove that this is one of those actions not asking for good arguments but being designed to look offensively unreasonable - just to demonstrate the sheer power over the individual; quite effective way to prevent the regular citizen from asking questions… If there were any chance of helping by the public – writing letters like Paul suggests should be a good idea, maybe best in quite modest tone and asking for mercy more than to dismiss the officials´ reasoning.
All the best to Mrs. Akhmedova
Hans-Jürgen Hertz-Eichenrode

While I still do think the UK's handling of photographers' right is appalling, this *does* put things in perspective a bit... Let's hope (against statistical evidence - see Andijan) the Uzbek government will be amenable to pressure....

They complain that the image of the genitally mutilated boy is "cruel" and makes you feel pity for his suffering.

As if the act itself is not cruel and the poor lad is indeed suffering, and its a natural response to feel sympathy.

What a disgusting backward country.

Mmmm, I've lived a lot in very backwards locations in South America, and in my experience that is what real underdevelopement is. A childish lack of acceptance of reality by those who govern and the ridiculous belief that everything can be changed by orders and appearances and people are just domino pieces. It's pretty clear they see themselves as backwards in front of the rest of the world, that's why they feel ashamed of the pictures. Probably governed by some incompetent bureaucrat dying to get some occidental varnish on the country's images (that he probably thinks would really reflect well on HIMSELF).

What a world...

Actually, it looks like an interesting location, someplace I'd like to go, (except for the circumcisions and the idiotic truth squads trying to enforce some distorted view of reality.)

Jim

My guess is that the people behind the prosecution of Akhmedova are not really concerned with her pictures but letting people know who is in charge. Its one thing to secret people away in the night, its another to do it in the light of day. The latter lets people know that there are no limits to the regime's authority. ch

I agree with the previous posters. I find the photographs to be lovely and quite innocent of any ill-intent.

But as all of us here known, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So perhaps the official government view has been tainted by a guilty conscience?

All they achieved so far is Streisand effect...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

I'll bet Howard French, who took those wonderful photos of disappearing Shanghai, would have an enlightening take on this. To outsiders, his pictures evoke a different age and a different (often enviable) pace of life. We also know that we're looking at people whose lives are about to change dramatically.

To many locals, though, his pictures would have seemed like attempts to portray Shanghai (or even China) badly or to ridicule it and he will probably have been told exactly that many a time. Old clothes, old bicycles, old streets, old buildings… we can never overestimate people's shame about some of the very things in their city that we find evocative and rich—that might be particularly true of those who are living much more "modern" lives already. Uzbekistan's government is off the rails in its reaction but the feelings behind that reaction are not unique to the people of that country. I really, really hope Ms Akhmedova is released. I liked her pictures. Some part of me would like to be living the much simpler life that many of my relatives live in the developing world.

a. This is appalling.

b. Some of the comparisons above suggest a very serious loss of perspective. Law enforcement agencies that overreach in democracies (not just in the UK btw) are one (bad) thing. What happens to artists, photographers, journalists etc in dictatorships is quite another.

I just signed the petition. I don't think it will do any good:

"The United States has worked closely with Uzbekistan, a corrupt and autocratic state with a chilling human rights record, in the fight against international terrorism... But such policies can backfire, improving the martial abilities of units that commit crimes against Uzbek citizens, and associating the United States with repression in the eyes of Uzbek people and the Islamic world."

Remember Harry Truman: 'They may be bastards, but they're our bastards.'

Rich, thanks for the sample letter and I hope you don't mind if I borrow it.

I agree that many of Ms. Akhmedova's photos portray Uzbek people and customs negatively. But that's not the point. The freedom to take and publish photographs is important. Many photographs have changed the world.

Photographs matter, and the freedom to take and publish them must not be curtailed.

I've included some contact info on my blog where so can protest directly to the government of Uzbekistan.


BBC Link appears to be void of content as at Tuesday 26th 17-20 UTC. I wonder what that's about ?

Well, UK and US policy was censureship of the regime because of the repression: until the Afghan war, when we needed substantial airbases nearby but at a safe distance.

Google "Craig Murray" for an account by an ex-UK Ambassador who resigned on the basis of UK Government policy in Uzbekistan.

If it's Central Asian scenics you fancy, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are fine alternatives, although regimes not by any means perfect.

Borat, of course, was a fine satire not on Kazakhstan but on the other "land of the free" (stan = land of, Kazakh = free people.)

Y

The Uzbek authorities make the current chinese communist party look relaxed in comparison; I say this because I just bought this book: http://www.amazon.fr/Aux-marches-Chine-Wu-Jialin/dp/2742765409/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264527295&sr=1-1 by chinese photographer Wu Jialin, full of fairly recent photos of men standing in markets with pigs on strings. As far as I know he hasn't been in any trouble for taking photos of poor areas in China.

I know this is quite a tangential comment, but the contrast struck me, especially as the second to last book I bought was this - http://www.amazon.com/Red-Color-News-Soldier-Li-Zhensheng/dp/0714843083/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264529119&sr=1-1 - by Li Zhensheng showing the excesses of the cultural revolution.


Here's a slideshow that has some more of Wu Jialin's photos:
http://www.fiftycrows.org/index.php#mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=0&a=6&p=0&at=8

I have signed the petition and sent an email to the Uzbek embassy in Washington (info at uzbekistan.org). I urge everyone to send a message to their local Uzbek embassy. For people in the UK, the address is: info at uzbekembassy.org

If there is no Uzbek embassy in your country, I would suggest sending a message to one of the email addresses above.

Your message does not have to be long and erudite. It's the number of messages they receive that conveys the strength of international opinion. Even sending a brief message comprising just one sentence would be helpful. This sort of thing does make a difference.

Somebody mentioned 'objective photojournalism'. These pictures aren't taken from a neutral standpoint - no picture is.

That aside, I wonder if the regime has realised how many more people worldwide will see these 'offensive' pictures due to their helpful publicity, than if they'd just ignored them? A further irony is the fact that my (and others') first reaction to the pictures is a desire to visit Uzbekistan.

I sent the following message to the Uzbek Embassy to the USA:

To Whom it May Concern:

I recently happened upon a story about an Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova, who has been arrested for "defamation and insulting Uzbek traditions" with her photographs. I am appalled, and would have the Uzbek government know that their action against Ms. Akhmedova has tarnished my view of Uzbekistan far more than her lovely and honest photographs. Photography is a form of art, and is open to interpretation. The fact that the Uzbek government has seized upon one interpretation and made it "a fact" is an insult to photography, photographers, and lovers of photography throughout the world. Not least of all it is an enormous insult to the work of Ms. Akhmedova. Please relay my sentiments to the Uzbek government.

Whether or not the series portrays the culture in a positive or negative way overall I don't think is, or ultimately can be, the issue. Clearly there is some difference of opinion about that. And that's the point: it's opinion. Anybody can have any opinion. The issue is a government that throws its citizens in prison (or forced labor camps) based on opinion, or their fear of others' opinions. Free speech is not a universally held virtue; indeed even in countries where it is held as an important right, it not infrequently comes under unwarranted attack. There's nothing new in this, and its not limited to photographers (it's a bit of a cliche' in some poetry circles that in other places, or at other times, it can be dangerous to be a poet). Others have been imprisoned (and likely some are in prison right now) in other places in the world for nothing more than some form of expression their government found too critical, whether they intended criticism or not (how many such people are unknown or now forgotten, I wonder). That doesn't make it any better (in fact, it makes it worse), and I think the outcry against this should be loud and long, though what immediate effect that may have for Akhmedova, for good or ill, is uncertain. Either way, Akhmedova is not alone, and the real issue is not what her photographs portray.

BTW, you can see more of the photographs at: http://www.fergana.info/details.php?image_id=1220, about 50 of them.

The reaction of those in power anywhere to condemnation of their treatment of one of their subjects is to say, 'see what you have brought down on us, now we are really going to punish you.' Any communication aimed at helping the situation should be worded with extreme care. As for the 'time for a regime change a la G Bush Jr', that resulted in appaling and tragic loss of life on both sides. Killing seldom solves problems, it merely raises new ones. The photos are of course full of honesty and charm.
Kerry Glasier
Cornwall. UK

Here is a direct email link to the Uzbek President's press service:

[email protected]

And the comments I sent. Use both freely. If we don't look out for each other, who will?


To Whom it May Concern:

I recently happened upon a story about an Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova, who has been arrested for "defamation and insulting Uzbek traditions" with her photographs. I am appalled, and would have the Uzbek government know that their actions against Ms. Akhmedova has tarnished my view of Uzbekistan far more than her lovely and honest photographs.

Your actions against Umida Akhmedova have brought shame upon Uzbekistan throughout the world, and it is you that have created "defamation and insult of Uzbek traditions" that Umida Akhmedova celebrate with her photographs.

I’m sure you will be hearing and receiving many more communications about this matter as it has brought worldwide attention to your intolerance and misguided actions.

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