On the 19th of May, in the “Palais de Justice” building on Ile de la Cité in Paris, the trial based on a claim by Lola Karimova, the daughter of the dictator Islam Karimov, took place. The defendant was the owner of the “Rue89” publication, Pierre Haski. The reason for the trial: an article, published on May 20, 2010 by the journalist Augustin Scalbert titled “AIDS: Uzbekistan cracks down at home but puts on show at Cannes.”
|Elena Servettaz / RFI|
The suit brought by Lola Karimova contains several complaints:
-The correspondent of the publication Augustin Scalbert called her father – the head Uzbekistan Islam Karimov – a dictator.
-The plaintiff estimates that the journalist deliberately used the word “launder”, which in French can be used in two ways: “to launder one’s image” and to “launder money”. According to Lola Karimova, the readers could decide that she, in her capacity as ambassador of Uzbekistan at UNESCO and leader of the charitable fund “You Are Not Alone”, as well as her sister Gulnara, the ambassador of Uzbekistan at UN headquarters in Geneva and to Spain, founder of the charitable foundation “Forum”, were involved in money laundering.
- Lola was also outraged by the fact that the article’s author wrote about the payment of 190 thousand Euro to the Italian actress Monica Bellucci for her participation at the charity ball held at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris in February 2010.
I was invited to participate in the trial by the defending party, “Rue89”, upon recommendation by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Apart from me, two other witnesses were invited: the former political prisoner from Uzbekistan Mutabar Tadjibaeva and the correspondent of the “Bakchich.info” publication Anaëlle Verzaux.
We were led into the courtroom by a court assistant. The court clerk, a square-shouldered, middle-aged man in a black robe and a buttoned jabot collar declared in an assured voice: “Stand up! The trial has started!” The judge arrived and we (the witnesses for the defending party) were invited to go into a separate room.
The first person called into the courtroom was Mutabar Tadjibaeva. After approximately 35 minutes I was called in. As I was approaching the doors of the room, I heard Mutabar dolefully repeat: “…and I’m one of thousands! Thousands!”
I entered the room, where a tense silence reigned. Mutabar’s story had left a deep impression on those present. Many looked at her with compassion, while she was trying to contain her agitation. A psychologist helped her calm down.
I subsequently learned from a colleague, that after Mutabar’s appearance, Lola Karimova’s lawyer had asked her some questions. Maitre Antoine Germain said: “Before I start fulfilling my duties as a solicitor and ask you a few questions, I want to say that I profoundly empathise with how hard it must have been for you to go through such trials…”. No doubt Antoine Germain was being sincere. It is worth noting that this was said by Lola Karimova’s lawyer, who denies she is the daughter of a dictator.
The clerk led me to the metallic railing facing the judges’ chair. Lawyers were standing on both my sides. After confirming my personal details I swore to tell the truth.
At the trial, I was representing the French association “Human Rights in Central Asia”. Back in January 2008, after the presidential elections in Uzbekistan, our organisation declared in a press release that in Uzbekistan power had been seized by the unconstitutional government of Islam Karimov. Since that date we do not refer to I. Karimov as the president of Uzbekistan in our documents.
“What is your status in France?” I was asked by the judge.
I answered: “I’m a political refugee. For the past 10 years I wake up every morning thinking about my country. It is painful for me talk about what’s happening in my motherland, where the life of a human is worth nothing. And the question doesn’t even arise for me whether Islam Karimov is a dictator or not. He is a dictator!” These words literally came straight from my soul.
Then the lawyer of “Rue89”, Antoine Comte, asked me: “Tell us about the political system in Uzbekistan, and what kind of role the daughters of Islam Karimov play in it”.
I answered: “In Uzbekistan all the institutional powers are in place so that it seems a democratic society to the outside. The majority of the country, however, lives in fear, because they depend on the free-will of Islam Karimov and on the whims of his spoilt daughters. The fate of millions of people depends on them.”
“From April 2000 to July 2002 I approached all competent authorities in Uzbekistan with complaints about the violation of my rights. I have with me a list of all these institutions and certified copies of postal receipts. I present them to the French court: none of the representatives of Uzbekistan’s leadership answered my appeals. This is the attitude towards the citizens of Uzbekistan expressed by the bureaucrats defending Karimov’s power.”
“Our organisation has received information about 19 cases of deaths among detainees, whose bodies bore marks of beatings and other violence. We have all the personal details of these victims and forwarded them to the responsible authorities. Not one of these cases was investigated, this is the level of democracy in Uzbekistan…”
“What benefits do Islam Karimov’s daughters bring to your country?” – “Rue89”’s lawyer asked again
“What could be the use to the country of the fashion shows that Gulnara Karimova arranges? She wastes money on them, in order to exhibit herself in the West. Who among Uzbek designers could be allowed to compete with her? Would anyone really dare? Any fashion projects from Uzbekistan known in the West belong to Gulnara Karimova. Who else, during their diplomatic careers, is busy designing clothes and jewellery pieces, and arranging fashion shows? Gulnara Karimova has more high-level meetings than the foreign minister of Uzbekistan.”
“Lola, Karimov’s younger daughter, organises charity evening parties attended by celebrities. It is becoming clear that Lola Karimova pays for the participation of celebrities at these events, rather than the celebrities donating their time for the benefit of her trustees.”
“One gets the impression that the charitable funds belonging to Islam Karimov’s daughters Lola and Gulnara and to his wife Tatiana Karimova, are for their own personal use, to purchase the approval of western elites and satisfy their exorbitant ambitions. They are the closest relatives of the Uzbek dictator, who, for 22 years, has clung to power in contempt of the constitution. Does society know where the funds of these charities come from? Our organisation is aware of two cases in which people acting on behalf of Islam Karimov’s daughters extorted money and property from successful Uzbek entrepreneurs.”
“Do you know Lola Karimova personally?” – the lawyer Antoine Germain asked.
“Did you personally in any way come in contact with Lola Karimova’s fund?”
" I fled Uzbekistan in March 2000. At that time Lola was not yet a public and influential figure. The information I am presenting is from our organisation’s archives".
After me the journalist Anaëlle Verzaux was called to testify.
It came to light that the journalist Anaëlle Verzaux had taken part in the charity ball at the Palace of Versailles in February 2010. At the court hearing, she brought with her documents showing an estimate of the costs of this ball. Lola Karimov’s lawyer got nervous as he saw the estimate, which showed that the organisation headed by Lola Karimova had spent 230 thousand Euro to secure the participation at the charity event of Monica Bellucci. He indignantly asked: “What is this? Where does it say “Lola Karimova” here?”
The journalist Anaëlle Verzaux went on to explain, that in her article for the “Bakchich.info” publication she had estimated down the sum spent by the organisers on the participation of Monica Bellucci. This is how she had protected her sources. This is why in her article the sum was 190 thousand Euro, instead of the 230 thousand Euro spent in reality on Monica Bellucci's participation.
The court attached the documents presented by Anaëlle Verzaux to the case brought by Lola Karimova. It was visible that “Rue89”’s lawyer was very satisfied with that.
The questioning of Anaëlle Verzaux lasted no more than 10 minutes.
The trial continued. The plaintiff’s lawyer began his plea with an answer to my question: “…where do the means of Lola Karimova’s charitable fund come from?” The following was made clear. It appears that the European Union gave Lola Karimova’s fund 3.7 million Euro. Three authoritative representatives of international organisations sent letters to the court, in which they remarked on her “ special contribution to substantial societal activities”. The names of the well-known politicians were not given by the lawyer, but their letters were transmitted for inclusion into the court’s materials. I managed to find out who was supporting Lola Karimova:
- The head of the representation of UNICEF in Uzbekistan Jean-Michel Delmott
Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether Monica Bellucci’s fee was paid with money from this European Union grant? And how would European taxpayers feel about that?
After that, a documentary film was shown about the charitable activities of Lola Karimova. Help for disabled persons is certainly important, so I watched it attentively. They showed the French court leisure and sport facilities for disabled people with special equipment, well-groomed children, and next to them, posing for the television cameras, Lola Karimova. I admit I was impressed! And all this was accompanied by an ingratiating speech in Russian. The female voice behind the images repeats often: “Lola Islamova loves disabled people very much”...». What can you say about that? There are more and more disabled people in our country – their number is increasing proportionally with the number of inmates and slaves working in the cotton fields.
The court then announced a break.
After 5 minutes the debate started. Lola Karimova’s lawyer took the floor again. He started by saying that he had come to court to seek charges for libel from a journalist, but that he found himself at a political trial. He did not touch upon the fact that the claim was about Lola Karimova being called the daughter of a dictator. He stated that in the article, the word “launder” had been used, which was meant as “laundering money”. Carried away by his own reasoning, Maitre Germain now suddenly started accusing the “Rue89” publication of using malevolent information, and alleged this had led to several legal proceedings.
The lawyer of “Rue 89”, during his plea, asked the absent plaintiff Lola Karimova: “Which state’s ambassador doesn’t launder the image of their country? Her professional duty is to present it from the best possible side, and in this case it is clearly inappropriate to quibble about the journalist’s phrases.”
The speech by the prosecutor made a big impression on me. Madame le procureur came to a conclusion: in the article the journalist Augustin Scalbert did not make any allegations of money laundering. Lola Karimova did not like the critical opinion of the journalist, but he has the right to freely express his opinion. And while Ms. Lola Karimova has this right, she did not make use of it. However, she immediately sued the journalist. Freedom of expression is protected by French laws. Every person has the right to express their convictions, and a journalist all the more so.
The defendant Pierre Haski – the owner of the “Rue89” publication – also spoke out. He contested the assertions of Lola Karimova’s lawyer about his paper being tarnished by court proceedings and paying ruinous fines for defamation charges: «Yes we have been in court a few times, but what makes you say that we lose the trials? On the contrary, we win every time. The fact that suits are brought against us is a testimony of our focus on cutting-edge issues. Your criticism of the journalist is baseless. Augustin Scalbert is a professional journalist, and our readers trust him".
With that, the hearing was ended. Everybody went out into the hall and started sharing their impressions. I approached the journalist Augustin Scalbert and handed him a letter from the Uzbek journalist Kutbitdinov expressing his esteem and support. Augustin shyly replied :“I simply wrote what I think...».
After witnessing the proceedings brought by Lola Karimova against the “Rue89” publication for more than three hours, I couldn’t help but compare the French legal system to that of Uzbekistan. During the past six years in Uzbekistan, almost 30 journalists and writers have been given prison sentences, many of them were punished for their criticisms under article 159 of Uzbekistan’s criminal code (infringement of the constitutional order). And the murders of the writer Eminjon Usmanov and of the Uzbekistan MP and member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Shovrukh Ruzimuradov, have not been investigated since 1991.
I was impressed, not as much with the sense of history contained in this courtroom, as with the conduct of the trial's participants. The full extent of the contention was expressed between the parties; they acted confidently, demonstrating their respect for each other. The court attentively considered the information about the practice of torture in Uzbekistan, even though the case was about another country.
It's clear that the dictator Islam Karimov and his ambassador-daughters cannot influence French courts.
The decision of the court on the claim brought by Lola Karimova will be made public on the 1st of July 2011.
On the 24th of May I received a message about the holding of some debates at the embassy of Uzbekistan in France on the 25th of May 2011 with the participation of the Institute of Civil Society of Uzbekistan — an organisation set up by those in power in Uzbekistan. All citizens of Uzbekistan residing in Paris are invited to the event. The theme of the discussions is no-doubt interesting: «Strengthening of the role of civil society and non-governmental organisations of Uzbekistan.” Those wishing to attend could confirm their participation on the fax number: 01.53.30.03.54
If anybody attended this event, please tell us: How do the Uzbek authorities view the strengthening of Uzbek civil society in France? I am certain that this campaign began after the lawsuit brought by Lola Karimova.