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Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstani journalist arrested by Uzbek border guards and freelance reporter forced to flee into exile

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Reporters Without Borders today criticised the Uzbek government’s "obstinate, determined and continual" efforts to harass the country’s independent journalists and crush all dissident opinion.

It noted that Erkin Yakubjanov, a Kyrgyzstani journalism student in the southwestern city of Osh, was arrested on 18 July by border guards as he was investigating the 13 May crackdown on the rebellion in Andijan for the radio station network Dolina Mira. Freelance journalist Tulkin Karaev was also forced to flee the country on 2 July after systematic harassment by the authorities.

"Journalists who dare to mention the events in Andijan are subjected to a witchhunt," it said. "President Islam Karimov’s refusal to meet an international (UN, EU and OSCE) fact-finding mission to discuss the rebellion shows that the regime wants to cover up the matter." It called on interior minister Zokirjon Almatov to free Yakubjanov at once and stop legal harassment of Karaev.

Yakubjanov had tried to interview border guards in Dustlik but they arrested him for allegedly not having permission to work in Uzbekistan and said they suspected he worked for the Uzbek service of Radio Ozodlik/Radio Free Europe. He was in fact on assignment for Dolina Mira as part of a project by the Danish media support group IMS about the Andijan repression and its consequences in the region.

Karaev, a freelance journalist working for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was forced to flee into exile on 2 July after being harassed since the events in Andijan. His apartment in the southern town of Karshi was watched round the clock by police and he was arrested on 4 June and held without trial for 10 days.

His passport was confiscated and he was put under house arrest. He got his passport back on 23 June after appeals from several international organisations, including Reporters Without Borders.

Karaev’s wife was contacted on 12 July by a person who said he had turned down a large bribe by the prosecutor in the southern region of Kashkadarya to provoke a row with Karaev, who was described as an "Islamist extremist." The informant refused the offer on grounds that he personally knew the journalist. The plan would have allowed the authorities to charge Karaev with hooliganism and put him in prison again.

Karaev worked for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe from 1998 to 2000 and more recently for the Uzbek service of Radio Iran and for IWPR, whose website (www.uznews.net) was forced to close down by the authorities after the crackdown in Andijan.




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