It’s no secret that civil society activists around the world are constantly under threat. They suffer targeted threats, harassment and actual physical abuse and can also be imprisoned under trumped-up charges. Many of these activists are imprisoned without an independent trial. In addition, civil society in their respective countries is silenced by their governments. CIVICUS’ Civil Society Behind Bars Campaign advocates for the release of such civil society activists behind bars and calls for justice. The campaign is presently appealing for the freedom of civil society activists in Uzbekistan and the Philippines. You can join the appeal and send a message of solidarity and support to them and their families.
Uzbek psychologist and HIV/AIDS activist , Maxim Popov, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment apparently as punishment for his active work to raise public awareness on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Although the sentence was given in September 2009, this news became public only in late February 2010.
Maxim, a 29 years old activist, was the founder and leader of Izis, an organisation of young medical professionals and activists, which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and empowerment of drug addicts and sex workers. He is also the author of the book "HIV and AIDS Today", which was published with the support of UNICEF and Population Services International. “Izis” was working on projects supported by UNDP, UNAIDS, Global Fund, UNICEF, USAID, World Bank, and DFID and it assisted AIDS patients and drug users through motivational interviewing, counseling, outreach, auricular acupuncture, and phytotherapy (traditional herbal medicine).
He was denied a public trial and hence it has been difficult for independent observers and the larger public to scrutinize the nature of the charges and the process of his indictment. According to local sources, Maxim Popov was officially charged with multiple grounds including "promoting homosexuality", "corrupting minors in anti-social behavior" and embezzlement of funds received from international donors. His book on HIV/AIDS, which primarily explains STD prevention, was deemed "illegal" by the criminal court of Tashkent, finding it as “disrespectful of the national culture and the Uzbek people.” The court verdict also referred to homosexuality as “categorically incompatible with the mentality, moral customs of the society, religion, and traditions of the Uzbek people.”
To date, none of the charges relating to embezzlement have been confirmed by the international donors themselves, and no such allegations of misuse of funds have been made against Popov earlier in relation to his work. To the contrary, the US-based Population Services International, one of the funding organizations of Izis, has reportedly declared publicly that it has no claims of financial nature against Maksim Popov.
Take action to release Maxim Popov:
CIVICUS believes that Popov has been jailed for speaking out and questioning the status quo on Uzbekistan. Activists in Uzbekistan have reportedly come under increasing scrutiny, and many activists in the country have chosen to remain silent on controversial issues for fear of meeting the same fate like Popov.
Write a letter to President of Uzbekistan, H.E. President Islam Karimov: