Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Burden of Virginity

Umida Akhmedova a photographer and photojournalist from
Uzbekistan is facing criminal charges (8 years of imprisonment) of insulting the Uzbek people. The charges stem in part from a 2007 album of photography depicting life in Uzbekistan’s villages and in part from her documentary - The Burden of Virginity - that she made together with her husband, filmmaker Oleg Karpov in 2009. The documentary was made with the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Uzbekistan.

I was reading the summary of the "expert opinion" that is the (main?) document supporting the charges. This document is partly written in Uzbek (so I was reading a translation into Russian) and partly in Russian. The fact that life in Uzbekistan is ruled by propaganda and the freedom of speech is nowhere to be found, is no news to me. What struck me most is how little effort the "experts" made to produce a high quality document to support the trial.

The document is so poor in its style, structure and supporting arguments - it makes one wonder why it has been produced in the first place. If you just want to imprison a journalist who said something you didn't like, why bother to set up a trial with expert opinions. Just throw her into jail and get it over with. If you do want to show to the world (or mainly to your own people) that there is a fair trial, why not demand quality from the experts. I know very little about the background of the issue, but even after reading the summary I had dozens of suggestions on how to improve the document and make it more convincing. Set a clear structure, explain why the photos and the film are insulting, describe how the film can be damaging if young people watch it, describe the image of modern Uzbekistan you think is right so it's clear how the film violates that image. State that the role of 'yanga' is traditionally very important and can be compared to the basic sexual education provided in schools in other countries. I felt an itch to take the document, edit it and send it to the Uzbek authorities. Of course I didn't do it. I don't have the time for the proper research and editing. Besides, Uzbek authorities are obviously not interested in quality. And before you come over here and lynch me: of course I am strongly opposed to the whole process in the first place.

I still think the Uzbek "experts" have missed their chance to make a fair deal with their conscience. Later, when Uzbekistan hopefully wakes up from this bad dream, they will not be able to say: "Maybe I backed the wrong horse, but at least I did my best."

The interviewed woman tells how her daughter was brought back by her mother in law after the first night after the wedding. They claimed she was not a virgin. The fact that people can speak the same language as I and still live such a totally different life is somehow shocking...


  1. I enjoyed reading this blog post though em and a friend of mine have a question. Why the wife and not the husband as well got charged for defamation?

  2. I think Umida Akhmedova is being charged because of the photos in the first place. The film just adds up to it. Uzbek authorities might have wanted to avoid a potential conflict with Switzerland. But these are speculations from my side - I haven't 'studied' the case deep enough to give you the answer.


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