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Uzbekistan19 July 2006

Editor closes website in response to harassment

Reporters Without Borders said it suspected the Uzbek authorities of being behind threats that forced a website editor to close his online publication and that he and his family had suffered years of harassment.

Alo Khodjaev, editor of Tribune-uz received regular telephone threats after he posted reports about the 13 May 2005 bloody crackdown on the Andijan pro-democracy uprising that contradicted the official version of events.

“We suspect the Uzbek authorities of being behind the threats to Alo Khodjaev. They are in any event complicit in that they have not protected the journalist and his family,” the press freedom organisation said.

“We are witnessing growing harassment of online publications and this is the second case of its kind in the past few weeks. We fear that these practices will be extended to other online journalists,” it added.

The authorities have refused to allow Khodjaev to leave the country even though his safety was in evident danger. Since the start of the year, it has been the turn of the journalist’s family members to become targets of intimidation and harassment. The tax authorities arbitrarily imposed a fine of three million sums (about 2 000€) on his son’s company and his wife was recently knocked down by a hit and run driver.

In his final article on Tribune-uz, dated 4 July, Alo Khodjaev said no further news would be posted on his site.

He wrote, “We followed only one aim - to help readers understand the uneasy peculiarities of the internal and foreign policies of our state. (..) Unfortunately, the authorities look at the activity and purpose of mass media in a different way. It is not incidental that our website has been fully blocked since May 2005, limiting the rights of our citizens to freely access information allowed by the laws of Uzbekistan. (..) Starting from today, our website is suspending its activities. I have no idea yet as to how long this will last. Believe me, there are serious grounds for such a decision.”

In July 2001, Khodjaev was sacked from his post as editor of the state-run newspaper Tashkentskaya Pravda, for having dared to criticise the government. After this he decided to launch a news website. At the same time, Khodjaev worked for an independent radio station Grand, but in June 2004 the authorities put pressure on the management of the station to get them to dismiss him.

Many news websites such as www.fergana.ru, www.centrasia.org or www.uzmetronom.com (see the 5 July press release) are blocked in Uzbekistan, a country which Reporters Without Borders counts as on the of the 15 Enemies of the Internet.


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