Uzbekistan14 May 2005
Reporters Without Borders "extremely worried" as journalists expelled from Andijan
"When the authorities keep journalists away from a conflict zone it is most often to hide abuses committed there. We are very concerned and urge President Islam
Karimov to allow our colleagues to cover these events", the organisation said after foreign and local journalists were expelled from the city overnight on 13-14 May.
Uzbek security services enforced the expulsions. Reuters news agency reported that its correspondent in Andijan was ordered to leave the city in half an hour, failing which police would be unable to guarantee his safety.
The agency said that seven journalists had been made to leave, mostly working for foreign newspapers, but a reporter with local agency Ferghana and another working for an opposition website were also forced to leave.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that several journalists including one of its correspondents had been arrested overnight, then released and taken out of the city.
The agency also reported that Uzbek authorities’ crackdown against the rebels had already left hundreds of people dead.
Start of an "information war"
Reporters Without Borders urged President Islam Karimov and insurgents in the eastern city of Andijan to respect press freedom at all costs, as foreign news broadcasts and websites were blocked.
US, Russian and British cable channels, CNN, NTV et BBC were all cut on 13 May throughout Uzbek territory and news was replaced with culture programmes and music clips.
Russian independent websites www.lenta.ru, www.gazeta.ru and www.fergana.ru, and several Uuzbek websites were also blocked inside the country. At the same time Uzbek state TV and the national news agency Ouza referred to "criminals and bandits" who took control overnight 12-13 May of the top security prison and regional council in Andijan, a city of 300,000 inhabitants.
Urging respect for press freedom, the cornerstone of democracy, the worldwide organisation called for pluralism of information to be protected in this particularly chaotic situation in the country.
"It is urgent to put a definitive end to all censorship so that the Uzbek people can be guaranteed impartial coverage of the events under way," it said. "All violence against journalists will seriously jeopardise the establishment of political and social normalisation in Uzbekistan."
Uzbek authorities control the media with a hand of iron. Although 800 newspapers and magazines are officially registered with the information ministry, only a handful has any editorial independence. The country’s four national TV channels are subject to presidential censorship and only a few websites carry any critical news.
A crackdown on independent journalists has been stepped up since April 2005. Sabirjon Yakubov, a journalist on the weekly Hurriyat (Freedom) which has a circulation of 3,500, was arrested in the capital Tashkent on 11 April 2005, charged with "upsetting the constitutional order" and "belonging to an extremist religious organisation" (Article 159 of the criminal code). He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Elsewhere, Ulugbek Khaidarov, 42, an independent journalist and local leader of Ezgulik (Kindness), a human rights organisation, was beaten up by a thug near his home in Jizzakh overnight on 23-24 April. Marina Kozlova, Uzbek correspondent for the US news agency United Press International (UPI), was refused accreditation by the foreign ministry on 27 April.
President Karimov travelled today to Andijan where insurgents freed some 2000 detainees from the top security prison overnight 12-13 May. Security forces have fired into the crowd of several thousand people gathered in the centre of Andijan to call for the resignation of the head of state. At least nine people have been killed since clashes began and 39 others have been injured.