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Uzbekistan14 June 2005

Authorities foment a denigration campaign against independent journalists

Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay at a campaign of denigration against independent journalists in Uzbekistan who covered the bloody events in Andijan in May.

"It is unacceptable that journalists who have covered news events at risk of their lives should become the targets of witch-hunts systematically orchestrated by the authorities," the organisation said.

"We urge President Islam Karimov to immediately halt this campaign of denigration, which uses the crudest ideological clichés against independent journalists and only strengthens the blockade on news and information in the country", it said.

The Uzbek secret services (SNB) has been instructing newspapers to carry ready written unsigned articles that vilify independent journalists who covered events in Andijan, calling them "traitors to the country" and "liars".

The sole journalist who managed to remain in Andijan after the events of 13 May 2005, Alexsey Volosevich, correspondent for the website, was targeted in an article carried on 3 June by the weekly Mokhiyat, portraying him as a hooligan. The newspaper Zerkalo XXI also carried an extremely virulent article on 9 June 2005 against independent radio Ozodlik (Radio Liberty), giving biased details about the personal life of journalist Hamroqul Qarshiev. The article concluded, "We will not abandon our country to foreign enemies".

Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the there has been a growing crackdown against journalists for the past two months. Tulkin Karaev, an independent journalist working for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was arrested in Karshi in the south of the country on 4 June 2005 accused of hooliganism. His warders reportedly attempted to inject him with heroin in his cell, so as to charge him with being a drug addict. Sabirjon Yakubov, a journalist on the independent weekly Hurriyat (Freedom) with a circulation of 3,500, was arrested in the capital Tashkent on 11 April 2005. He was charged with "infringing the constitutional order" and "membership of an extremist religious organisation" under Article 159 of the criminal code. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

"Two to three months from now, all the independent journalists will have been arrested and put in prison," said and independent journalist, based in Karshi.

The Uzbek authorities have completely expropriated news and information. It is still impossible to access Russian television stations REN-TV and TV-Tsentr in Uzbekistan and the country’s Internet providers have blocked all independent Internet websites. Radio remains the best source of independently sourced news but is limited to just a few hours in the Uzbek language on the BBC, Ozodlyk (Radio Liberty) and the Voice of America. The US public radio resumed its half-hour daily broadcasts on 12 June after a year of interruption.

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