Uzbek rights activist to go on trial for blackmail

A prominent Uzbek rights activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee goes on trial Monday for alleged blackmail amid a government crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet republic. Mutabar Tojiboeva faces charges involving 17 articles of Uzbek criminal code, including blackmail, embezzlement and slander, the New-York based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Friday.

The trial will take place in the town of Soldatsky, near the capital Tashkent, and will be closed to the public.

Tojiboeva was arrested in October en route to a human rights conference in Dublin, Ireland. She headed the Fiery Hearts Club, a rights group based in Margilan, a town in the overpopulated Fergana valley located next to Andijan, where government troops fired on thousands of protesters last May.

The uprising erupted when militants seized a prison and freed 23 businessmen on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. Tojiboeva worked with families of the businessmen and was due to visit them on the day of the uprising, but was detained for three days.

The attackers also seized a local administration building and took hostages, as thousands of demonstrators gathered nearby to press economic and social grievances.

Rights groups and witnesses said hundreds of civilians were killed in the government crackdown. The government, however, blamed Islamic militants for instigating the violence, and said 187 people died. Tojiboeva was among the founders of the non-governmental organization movement in Uzbekistan and was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace prize. In her interviews and statements, she harshly criticized the government of President Islam Karimov for the May 13 violence.

Tojiboeva is reportedly being held in a pretrial detention center in Fergana, according to another rights group, London-based Amnesty International. She is not allowed to see her family and her health is deteriorating, the group said, reports the AP. I.L.

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