A 28 year old psychologist and AIDS activist has been sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in Uzbekistan. A court in Tashkent sentenced Popov on six charges including, embezzlement, concealment of funds, incitement to drug use, corrupting minors, promoting anti-social conduct and tax evasion. Authorities had been angered by the publishing of a pamphlet written by Popov called “The Healthy Way of Life: a Manual for Teachers of the 21st Century.” The pamphlet promoted the use of condoms during sex and advocated the distribution of clean needles to heroin users. It was distributed as part of project run by a local NGO but supported by UNICEF, UNDP, and the Washington-based Population Service International. Some sources state that the US Agency for International Development and UK Department for International Development also funded the project, the embezzlement and concealment of fund charges stem from transactions with international donors.

However the court ruled that the publication went against Uzbek national traditions and that its objective among other things was to conduct sexual abuse on children under the age of 16 and promote homosexuality and prostitution.

The case of Maxim Popov is a huge miscarriage of justice that violates many of the basic principles of human rights and freedom of speech. There was no evidence presented to the court of the indictments that he was charged with and the Uzbek criminal code contains nothing about “national traditions.” The case has been kept behind closed doors and details were only made public 13 months after his original arrest in January 2009.

The Maksim Popov case represents a setback for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uzbekistan. Since 2000 the government has undertaken measures to address rapidly increasing HIV rates and have endorsed “Trust Points” that provide counselling, testing, condoms and syringes. The incarceration of an activist trying to reduce HIV rates needs to be addressed.

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