Tashkent, June 10, 2002—A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today completed a nine-day mission to Uzbekistan by calling on President Islam Karimov to free three jailed journalists and to change government policies that severely restrict press freedom in the country.
In recent weeks, Uzbek officials formally abolished prior censorship. But local newspaper editors have been warned that they will be held personally accountable for what they publish, limiting the impact of this step.
Uzbek authorities also encourage self-censorship by threatening critical journalists with imprisonment. Other tactics include lawsuits in politicized courts, harassment by police and security forces, arbitrary implementation of media regulations, an politically motivated tax inspections.
CPJ found that the government’s harsh policies have succeeded in creating a culture of self-censorship in the country. Local journalists rarely cover official corruption, human rights abuses, or the activities of opposition political parties and Islamic organizations.
CPJ met with Uzbek government officials, local journalists, foreign correspondents, Western diplomats, and human rights activists in Samarkand and Tashkent, the capital.
“At a time when the entire world is paying close attention to Uzbekistan’s human rights record, the Karimov government continues to stifle most attempts at independent speech in the country,” said Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prizewinning war correspondent, formerly with CNN and The Associated Press, who serves on CPJ’s board of directors and was a member of CPJ’s delegation to Uzbekistan.
“For the sake of Uzbek democracy and Uzbekistan’s international reputation, we call on President Karimov to ensure that all journalists in the country are able to work without fear of official harassment,” Arnett said.
In addition to Arnett, the delegation included CPJ’s editorial and program director Richard M. Murphy and Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Alex Lupis.
The CPJ delegation made several recommendations whose implementation could help improve press freedom conditions in the near future:
- Immediately release three Uzbek journalists who are in jail for their professional work: Muhammed Bekjanov and Iusuf Ruzimuradov, of the banned opposition newspaper Erk, and Madzid Abduraimov, of the national weekly Yangi Asr.
- Provide official assurances that independent broadcaster Shukhrat Babadjanov, who was forced to flee into exile because of serious threats of imprisonment on false charges, will be able to return to Uzbekistan safely and reopen ALC Television, a TV station in Urgench, a northern Uzbekistan city, that was closed for politically motivated reasons.
- Provide assurances that the government will stop using politically motivated lawsuits to harass independent publications such as the Samarkand newspaper Oyna.
- Promote a culture of openness and transparency in the government. Officials should no longer fear punishment for granting on-the-record interviews to journalists and providing them with information about state policies.
- Reform or abolish the State Press Committee and the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee (MKK), which are jointly responsible for licensing and regulating the local press. In particular, the State Press Committee should not have arbitrary power to withdraw media licenses.
- Allow the establishment of an independent broadcasting association to advocate on behalf of private radio and television stations.
- Grant international broadcasters such as the BBC and Radio Liberty access to FM frequencies that will allow them to reach a wider audience in Uzbekistan.
- Establish an independent commission of legal experts and local journalists to review the laws on slander, libel, access to information, status of journalists, the mass media and other applicable regulations.