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Uzbekistan19 September 2006

Regime persecutes last independent journalists including president’s nephew

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Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of independent journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov on a trumped-up charge on 14 September in Jizak and voiced concern about the fate of President Islam Karimov’s nephew, opposition journalist Djamshid Karimov, of whom there has been no word since he went missing two earlier.

“We are witnessing the death of Uzbekistan’s independent press at the hands of the police state,” the press freedom organisation warned.

(JPEG) Khaidarov was waiting for a bus on 14 September when a woman suddenly slipped money into his pocket. Police arrested him seconds later, although he had already managed to pull out the money and throw it to the ground. Since then, they have been holding him in Jizak prison on a charge of “extortion and blackmail” under article 165 of the criminal code. He faces between 5 and 10 years in prison.

Karimov was seen for the last time on his way home on 12 September after visiting his mother in hospital. He and Khaidarov are both former Uzbekistan correspondents of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, contributors to the independent websites fergana.ru and centrasia.ru and opposition supporters. And both have long been the targets of harassment by the Karimov regime.

The disappearance of one and arrest of the other have raised concerns that the authorities have entered a new stage in the drive to stamp out dissent in Uzbekistan.

Ever since the Andijan uprising in May 2005, the authorities have been forcing the foreign media out of the country and have been trying to silence the local independent media, making it impossible for the most outspoken journalists to find work and driving them into exile. Those that resist are subject to systematic judicial harassment.


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