Uzbekistan27 March 2007
Fraud case against Deutsche Welle free - lancer
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a prosecution launched against, Natalya Buchuyeva, Deutsche Welle free-lancer, for tax evasion and failing to obtain accreditation, which has been brought by the prosecutor’s office in Tashkent.
There has been a dramatic increase in harassment of critical journalists since 2005 with those working for foreign media coming in for particular surveillance, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Since 2006 they have all been forced to get official accreditation.
“This state of affairs is incompatible with the founding values of Europe and particularly of freedom of expression,” the organisation said. “We urge the European authorities not to ease sanctions against the regime of Islam Karimov as long as it continues to hound dissidents.”
Buchuyeva was summoned by the prosecutor’s office in the capital on 23 March, since when her family has heard nothing from her and she failed to turn up for a planned meeting today with her lawyer, Suhrob Ismailov. He said that the journalist, who is facing up to three years in prison, may have left the city.
The EU voted for sanctions against Uzbekistan following the May 2005 massacre in the eastern city Andijan in which around 800 people were killed, according to estimates by human rights groups (187 according to the Uzbekistan authorities). These sanctions were slightly eased on 13 November 2006 and are due to be reviewed in May 2007.
The Uzbek government in February 2006 adopted a new law to punish journalists working for foreign media who dare to criticise its policy. Under this law they can be sanctioned for interference “in internal affairs” or insulting “the honour and dignity of Uzbek citizens”. It also provides for accreditation to be cancelled in cases of infringement.
The procedure for applying for registration was extended from 10 days to two months and Articles 22 and 23 introduced additional restrictions banning both Uzbek and foreign citizens from cooperating with non-accredited journalists under pain of prosecution. Article 21 clearly equates journalists with terrorists by providing for the expulsion of anyone calling “for the overthrow of the constitutional order or for racial or religious hatred.”
Foreign media bureaux have been closed. Deutsche Welle was the latest to be shut down, following the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The german radio has tried to get the necessary accreditations according to the new law but was not successful until today. Correspondents working for foreign media have also been assaulted or arrested, including Lobar Qaynarova, Vladislav Chekoyan, and Tulkin Karaev.