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Uzbekistan17 May 2005

EU and USA called on to help restore media access

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at a news blackout throughout Uzbek territory, opening the way to excesses. It urged EU and USA representatives in Tashkent to press President Islam Karimov to immediately restore free access to news and information.

Since all local and foreign journalists were expelled from the eastern city of Andijan overnight on 13-14 May, no journalist has been able to report from there. The city has been sealed off by trucks and armoured vehicles set up by the police and army.

Uzbek and foreign journalists should be allowed to work normally so that Uzbek civil society as well as international opinion can be informed about political and social developments at this particularly crucial time, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"We strongly condemn the silence imposed by the Uzbek authorities that gives rise to completely unverifiable rumours and sows terror among the local population," said Reporters Without Borders.

Journalist Dmitri Iasminov and cameraman Viktor Muzalevsky of Russian REN-TV, who attempted to reach Andijan by car on 14 May, were arrested at a checkpoint a few kilometres outside the city and held for more than two hours.

"They were forced to return to Tashkent and, according to our information, no journalist has been able to cover the events in Andijan," said Marianna Maksimosky, deputy news editor at REN-TV, told Reporters Without Borders. Police arrested a Russian journalist working for NTV, Alexey Ivliev, just outside Andiijan on 14 May and refused him access to the city. "Police confiscated the crew’s papers and escorted us to Tashkent," he told the organisation.

The news blackout imposed by the authorities since 13 May remains in force across Uzbek territory. Foreign TV channels, BBC, CNN and DeutscheWelle, broadcast by cable and satellite, are still inaccessible to viewers. Russian TV news bulletins on NTV, ORT and Rossiya have been replaced by blank screens and musical interludes. News bulletins on the four Uzbek public channels were replaced by footage of agricultural work.

However President Islam Karimov’s press conference in Tashkent on 15 May has been shown on a loop. In it, the head of state criticised "journalists and foreign media who are only paid if they produce sensationalist news". Praising Reuters news agency for its relative objectivity, he castigated all journalists who wanted to repeat what they said and wrote in Och and Jalalabad (Kyrgyzstan) and those who, "their eyes wide with fear are tempted by hyperbole" The president justified the news blackout in Andijan by saying, "I do not know any country that would allow journalists access to armed conflict zones".

Elsewhere, the Uzbek foreign ministry recalled, on 14 May, that it reserved the right to refuse or to discontinue accreditation granted to a foreign journalist at any time.

The authorities have said 70 people have been killed since the start of clashes in Andijan, but many eye witness have reported more than 500 dead and 2,000 injured, many of them women and children.

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