The lead spokesman for American Indians protesting a plan to haul radioactive waste to a uranium mill south of Blanding has been charged with criminal defamation.

Norman Begay, a White Mesa Ute, was charged with a class B misdemeanor of conveying false or libelous material to a newspaper or broad-casting station.Begay's attorney is outraged.

"It's a blatant attempt to silence (Begay)," said Salt Lake attorney Cullen Battle, who plans to ask the U.S. Justice Department to investigate what he perceives as a civil rights case.

"I see (the charge against Begay) as a blatant abuse of power."

The charge was filed in Blanding's Justice of the Peace Court by San Juan County Attorney Craig Hall, who was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The charges accuse Begay of conveying false or libelous information against Cleal Bradford, who was fired as director of the White Mesa Ute Tribe in October. Bradford was fired by the tribal council because he supported the plan to haul tailings from Monticello to Energy Fuels Nuclear Inc. uranium mill, just north of the White Mesa reservation.