The Committee to Protect Journalists this week joined a campaign spearheaded by Human Rights Watch and Uzbek human rights defenders urging Czech President Milos Zeman to cancel Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov's visit to Prague. Zeman had invited Karimov to visit this month despite the Central Asian leader's notorious intolerance to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and Uzbekistan's abysmal human rights record, which includes the Andijan massacre of May 2005.
In a joint February 10 letter, the coalition of 31 international organizations called on Zeman not to lend legitimacy to Karimov's authoritarian rule by receiving him as a guest in a European democracy. The letter elicited a swift--and stunning--response from the Czech leader, who said Karimov's visit was "a matter of diplomatic courtesy." Zeman charged the groups (wrongfully) with failing to protest Karimov's previous visits to Europe, and wished us "more awareness and less hypocrisy." After we rebutted these points in another joint letter, we were pleased to learn today that Karimov had postponed indefinitely his visit to Prague.
As our colleagues at HRW Andrew Stroehlein and Steve Swerdlow pointed out, "It may seem a symbolic victory, but for those Uzbek activists who raised their voices on this, such symbols matter hugely."