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Uzbek filmmaker convicted of slander

MOSCOW (AP) — An Uzbek film director was convicted of slander on Wednesday for making a documentary on wedding rituals in the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, but released on amnesty, the artist and her lawyer said.

Umida Akhmedova said the court in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, found her guilty of slander and "offense through mass media."

Akhmedova's film, "The Burden of Virginity," describes hardships young women face in the mostly Muslim nation during and after the traditional nuptial ceremonies, including the public demonstration of a bloodstained bedsheet after the first night.

The film has never been shown in Uzbekistan, but is available online.

Akhmedova's public trial before Judge Bekzod Irmatov used a conclusion of government-appointed experts that found her film "offensive for the Uzbek nation" and a media campaign that lambasted her films and photographs.

Akhmedova also said the experts negatively evaluated her photo album on the life of rural Uzbeks, concluding the pictures prompt foreigners to think that Uzbekistan "lives in the Middle Ages."

Her lawyer, Sergei Mayorov, said the court "completely ignored" his arguments and evidence proving Akhmedova's innocence. He said the judge could have used the conviction to sentence the director to three years in jail, but instead used an amnesty to release her.

Uzbek officials were not available for comment.

Since the 1980s, Akhmedova, 55, has filmed more than 20 documentaries. Her recent films cover topics tabooed in the official Uzbek media such as ordeals of Uzbek women whose husbands earn a living abroad, the life of ethnic Russians amid rising nationalism, and the official condemnation of the country's Soviet past.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the nation's former Communist boss, has ruled the Central Asian nation with an iron fist since before the Soviet collapse, wiping out dissent and eliminating opposition.

Karimov's government censors the media, filters unwanted Internet resources and bans "corrupting" films from Russia or Hollywood.

In 2006, folk singer Dadakhon Khasanov was given a three-year suspended sentence for writing a song about a bloody government crackdown on the 2005 popular uprising in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.

Rights groups and witnesses say hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters were killed by government forces in Andijan. Authorities insist 187 died and blamed Islamic radicals for instigating the violence.

Umida Akhmedova's photos: