For those who haven’t heard, a trial is under way in Paris to determine whether Rue89, an online French magazine, defamed Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, daughter of the Uzbek, er, president, for calling her the daughter of a dictator.

No magazine, especially in such parlous times for the industry, wants to spend money defending against these kinds of suits. But other than that, what a great development this is, that the nature of Islam Karimov’s regime is going to be dissected in a Western courtroom (only months, incidentally, after Brussels got a lot of heat for hosting him on an official visit there).

The article in question was written a year ago, when Lola’s sister, Gulnara Karimova, was named co-chair of a celebrity benefit in Cannes to raise funds for AIDS research. It mentioned Lola’s prominent place at a benefit for cancer research a few months before at Versailles. (“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” author Augustin Scalbert lamented.) Scalbert, as TOL did around the same time, took particular exception to the odious hypocrisy of a member of the Karimov family being seen to do such good works while in Uzbekistan a dedicated AIDS campaigner had been locked up for distributing information pamphlets on the disease.

The trial is under way now. Rue89’s lawyer has called to the stand a string of people who have been victimized somehow by the Karimov regime. They’re not hard to find.

Among them has been Mutabar Tadjibaeva, a human rights activist imprisoned in late 2005. Speaking through an interpreter, here’s what she told the court, according to Rue89’s account:

I was kidnapped in 2005 following the Andijan events, which I had witnessed [more than 750 demonstrators were massacred, ed]. Taken outside the city I was humiliated and insulted. I was told, “What do you meddle for?

I was thrown into a room, with tape over my mouth. I was then raped by three men.

Then it was the turn of Nadedja Ataieva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia.

After a conflict between her father and Karimov, Ataieva’s uncle – her father’s brother – spent nine years in prison.

A tribunal judge asked her, “Karimov’s daughers, are they useful to Uzbekistan?”

“Lola Karimova spends her time organizing fashion shows in Europe, for her, for her image. How is that useful? Besides, who funds these shows?”

To which Karimova’ s lawyer objected, handing Ataieva a chance to mention child labor in Uzbekistan.

“Are you familiar with the children’s aid groups of which Lola Karimova is president?’

“Yes, I know of them. These associations have selective politics. It is propaganda in the service of Ms. Karimova. Why do they do nothing to help the children exploited in the cotton fields?”

Aside from these witnesses, the judges will have no shortage of reports from Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, FrontLine, and many more organizations.

Here is a passage from Ataieva’s blog post about her day in court:

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.

A professor of mine once told me that embarrassment is a powerful teacher. What do you suppose Karimov and his offspring have learned from this debacle?

By the way, here’s another bright spot: I don’t know about you, but before this lawsuit, I had never heard of Rue89. Now I’ll give it a look when I can.

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email: barbara.frye@tol.org

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