The fight against the Islamic rebels and terrorism is systematically used by President Karimov’s regime to justify the brutal repression of any independent news. In a country where all news comes from and is validated by the state, no commentary is allowed in the press about the existence of an opposition, criminality, corruption and the various questions relating to the respect of freedom, individual rights and minorities (especially the Uighur). One of the few local television stations showing a certain editorial independence, ALC-TV in Urgench, was periodically closed down starting in 1995 and was definitively closed in July 2001.
Journalists present in Uzbekistan at the beginning of October to cover the air strikes on Afghanistan were systematically refused permission to visit military sites or border posts, often after several days of waiting. And until 25 November journalists were not granted permission to cross the border bridge into Afghanistan.
Two journalists jailed
Shadi Mardiev was held in prison in the town of Kizil-tepa, in the Navoi region (to the west of Samarkand) since 1998. On 3 August 1998 Shadi Mardiev was
sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment for "slander" and "attempted extortion" by the appeals court in Tashkent. The journalist was first arrested in 1997 for a radio broadcast in which he denounced the misappropriation of funds by Samarkand’s deputy public prosecutor. Shadi Mardiev chaired the radio programme, "The Law and Us", well known for its criticism of the authorities, on Samarkand regional public radio. Following on the Presidential decrees of 30 April 1999 and 28 August 2000, his sentence was halved. Twice victim of strokes, the journalist’s health remains a matter of concern. Shadi Mardiev was freed in early January 2002 by a Presidential amnesty.
Jusuf Ruzimuradov is still in jail where he is serving an eight-year term. The journalist was sentenced on 18 August 1999 for wanting to "overthrow the government by force", "membership of an illegal organisation" and "insulting the country’s President in the press", an infraction covered by article 158.3 of the penal code. Jusuf Ruzimuradov was the editor-in-chief of Erk, the last opposition newspaper published in the country until it was banned by the authorities in 1993. Threats of rape against his family, torture and psychological pressure were used to extract his confession.
Two journalists threatened
On 16 June 2001 Asadulla Ortikov, former journalist for Radio Ozodlik (the Uzbek service of Radio Liberty) and collaborator of the newspaper, Harakat, was questioned at the department of Internal Affairs (DDIA) of Yakabadsky district in the region of Kashkadar’ya. During the interrogation the DDIA head demanded that the journalist stop criticising the government in his articles. A short time after, the journalist was obliged to leave the Kashkadar’ya region for Tashkent because of the threats to which his family was exposed.
On 12 July 2001 Ruslan Sharipov, correspondent for the Russian press agency, Prima, president of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan and webmaster of an Internet site, was chased by the employees of the security services (NSS) as he was going to the Tashkent courthouse to cover a trial. His assailants were about to start beating him when passers-by intervened. The journalist managed to find refuge at the local offices of the Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). At the end of August he published a series of articles denouncing the repression of the country’s Moslems. He was also investigating the suspicious deaths of members of the opposition. On 31 August Ruslan Sharipov was arrested by NSS agents, accused of being involved in a terrorist group. Secret service agents also applied pressure on his relatives. His mother, brother and a cousin were questioned and threatened. In an open letter to the Uzbekistani President, Ruslan Sharipov asked that an order be issued to end his being followed by the security services, that the pressures on his family stop and that he be allowed to exercise his profession as an independent journalist.
Pressure and obstruction
In April 2001 the government confiscated the frequency used by the television station, ALC-TV in Urgench (in the country’s north), which had already been penalised four times since 1995 by the regional authorities. In July 2001 the station’s manager, Shukhat Babajanov, decided to bring an end to the station’s broadcasting. In May the authorities ordered the newspaper, Oina, a young people’s revue in the Tajik language, to stop publishing after it expressed criticism of the municipal and regional authorities of Samarkand.
On 17 May fifteen militia members went to the home of the sister of Jahangir Mamatov, a former journalist for Erk, and since living in the United States where he works on programmes for Voice of America in the Uzbek language. The militia are said to have planted a packet of drugs in the apartment. Mamatov’s mother and daughter were then arrested in an obvious attempt to apply pressure on Jahangir Mamatov.
On 6 July the editor-in-chief of Tashkent Pravda, Alo Hajaen, had to give up his idea of instituting a column of free expression in his paper because of pressure. He said that "Tashkent Pravda was the last fruit on the tree that could now be cut down".
On 9 July the Tashkent public prosecutor started prosecution against Shushrat
Babajan, a well known journalist and former manager of the independent television station, ALC-TV, now closed by the authorities. He was accused of having falsified a reference letter that dated from some ten years before when he became a member of the Uzbekistan Artists Union (UAU). On 6 August he fled the country.
Until 25 November foreign journalists in Termiz on the Uzbekistani-Afghani border were not allowed to use the bridge spanning the Amu-Daria River to cross the border. Dozens of humanitarian aid workers and representatives of the international media were refused authorisation for crossing the border bridge into Afghanistan to reach the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. On 25 November journalists were at last authorised by the Uzbekistani authorities to enter Afghanistan by crossing the Amu-Daria River in barges. The border bridge has been officially closed since 1997.
President Islom Karimov has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders