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The regime’s broad crackdown since May 2005 has also targeted local and foreign media. Foreign journalists are seen as agitators and “terrorists” and Uzbek freelances who work with them are prosecuted. Arrests, internment and blocked websites were routine for journalists in 2006.
Repression has become harsher since the 13 May 2005 uprising in the eastern town of Andijan, when about 800 people were killed, according to non-governmental organisations (187 according to the government). Offices of foreign media were closed and their staff forced to leave the country, including those of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the US media aid organisation Internews and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.
The government cancelled the accreditation of Obid Shabanov, correspondent of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in the southern region of Bukhara, on 15 March 2006 and accused him of putting out inaccurate news in a 1 February programme on the station, when he reported that some 30 people had frozen to death in an unheated bus on its way to Moscow.
The government announced on 24 February that journalists working for foreign media that criticised official policies risked losing their accreditation for interfering in “internal affairs” or insulting the “dignity and reputation” of Uzbeks. The procedure for registering with the authorities was extended from 10 days to two months. Foreign and Uzbek journalists were forbidden to work with unaccredited Uzbek colleagues on pain of prosecution. Journalists were likened to terrorists and the decree said those who “called for the overthrow of the state or incited racial and religious hatred” would be deported.
Uzbek journalists were front-line targets of the crackdown. Six reporters on the government paper Pravda Vostoka were dismissed in July after the presidential office called them “politically unreliable.” The journalists (Jamilya Aipova, Olga Fazylova and others) contributed the independent website Tribune (www.tribune-uz.info). Two independent journalists, Ulugbek Khaidarov and Jamshid Karimov (the president’s nephew), were also victims.
Karimov vanished on 12 September between his home and the hospital in Jizak where his mother was a patient. His family found out on 5 October that he had been interned in a mental hospital and would be held there for at least five months. Khaidarov was arrested on 14 September and falsely accused of “extortion and blackmail” after a woman approached him at a bus stop and stuffed some banknotes in his pocket that he quickly threw on the ground. Police arrested him a few seconds later. He was sentenced to six years in prison by a court in Jizak on 5 October before being freed without explanation a month later.
Sabirjon Yakubov, former correspondent for the independent paper Hurriyat, was freed on 4 April 2006 after charges against him of “undermining constitutional order” and “involvement with a extremist religious organisation” were dropped. He had been arrested in Tashkent on 11 April 2005 and been imprisoned in an intelligence services (SNB) detention centre.
Internet users were also targeted. All local service providers (ISPs) have been forced since November 2005 to use the state-controlled telecom operator Uzbektelecom, which enables the regime to compile blacklists. The website of independent journalist Sergei Ezhkov, Uzmetronom.com, was blocked in June 2006. He is one of the very few journalists openly critical of the regime.
Alo Khojayev, editor of the website Tribune-uz, decided to close it down in early July, as he and his family had been receiving threats since May 2005, when he posted online news about the Andijan uprising that contradicted the official version. The authorities refused to let him leave the country, even though he had hounded and efforts made to intimidate him, so he stopped working as a journalist.