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Uzbekistan12 May 2006

One year after Andijan, foreign media and independent journalists prevented from working freely

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Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been at war with foreign and independent media, treating them as enemies seeking his overthrow, ever since the bloody crackdown in Andijan one year ago when his regime was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, said Reporters Without Borders.

“The putting down of the Andijan revolt was a black day not only for human rights but also for press freedom, marking a decisive turning point towards the authoritarianism of the regime,” it said.

The government’s most recent resolution passed in February 2006 clearly links journalists and terrorists and allows their accreditation to be withdrawn. At least three media were successively banned in 2005. Two journalists paid a high price for covering the crackdown and were imprisoned.

Today almost all foreign media have been driven out of the country and their local correspondents are systematically harassed preventing them from freely doing their job,” said Reporters Without Borders.

Antoine Lambroschini, correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Almaty (Kazakhstan), was briefly held captive in his hotel room in Andijan after he arrived on 11 May to report on the anniversary of the crackdown.

Around 20 men and women of the Makhala group, who accused him of belonging to the special services, jostled and hit him about the head. He was forced to leave the city and remains uncontactable by phone.

Overnight on 12-13 May 2005, an armed group besieged the prison in Andijan, in the east of the country and the revolt turned into a popular uprising. The government ordered the police to open fire on the crowd. The government acknowledged the death of 187 people while human rights activists put the figure at between 500 and 1,000 dead. The western media were blamed for organising the rebellion.

The following night, the authorities expelled at least seven journalists, including the AFP correspondent, to prevent them from covering the atrocities. Cable broadcasts of US, Russian and British TV, on CNN, NTV and BBC, were blacked out and several independent Russian and Uzbek websites where blocked.

In June, BBC correspondent Monica Whitlock was forced to flee the country as a result of government harassment. Six local correspondents for the British channel also fled the country and two of them obtained refugee status with the UN. Tulkin Karaev, an independent journalist and contributor to the NGO, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was put under continuous police surveillance after the bloody events in Andijan and was also forced into exile as a result of harassment on 2 July.

Correspondent on the US-run Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Nosir Zokirov, was arrested on 26 August and sentenced for insulting a member of the government after he interviewed a villager who spoke out against the crackdown. He was released on 26 February 2006, at the end of his six-month prison sentence. He has been left destitute and unable to find work. Uzbek authorities also arrested a journalism student of Kyrgyzstan origin, Erkin Yakubjanov, on 20 July 2005, while he was researching the Andijan story for the Dolina Mira radio network. He was freed a few days later.

American NGO, Internews, which runs journalist training programmes, was banned on 9 September 2005. The BBC had to close its offices in October 2005 and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, followed suit on 12 December.

The Uzbek government adopted a resolution on 24 February 2006 that it would no longer accredit any journalists from foreign media or any of their contributors who “interfere in internal affairs”, “violate territorial integrity” or “call for the overthrow of the constitutional order by force”.

Two journalists had already fallen foul of the government’s anti-terrorist fight launched in 1999 following an alleged assassination attempt against the president. Josef Ruzimuradov and Mohammed Bekjanov were sentenced on 18 August to eight and 15 years in prison for their contributions to the opposition newspaper Erk, since banned by the authorities. They are still in prison.




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