Authorities launch criminal inquiry of Internews

New York, April 6, 2005—The prosecutor-general’s office in Uzbekistan said yesterday it was investigating the Tashkent bureau of the media training and advocacy group Internews Network on criminal charges of operating without a license, according to international reports.

Witnesses have been questioned, “but at this stage nobody has been arrested,” the prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Svetlana Artikova told IRIN, a United Nations-affiliated news agency. Artikova did not provide details of the possible violations, nor did she specify potential penalties.

Catherine Aldridge, an Internews representative in Tashkent, said she was concerned about the inquiry, the BBC reported. “We have been active in Uzbekistan for over 10 years and hope to continue in the future providing support for the media—of course, within the framework of Uzbekistan’s laws,” Aldridge said.

U.S.-based Internews trains television and radio reporters, provides legal advice to journalists, and lobbies for media reforms. About a year ago, Internews began documenting and publicizing press freedom abuses in Uzbekistan.

The government has intensified harassment of non-governmental organizations that promote press freedom after recent protests in neighboring Kyrgyzstan forced out that country’s authoritarian president, Askar Akayev.

Uzbekistan authorities have taken action against Internews in the past. In September 2004, a Tashkent court shut down the organization’s local affiliate, Internews-Uzbekistan, for six months on charges of failing to register its logo and change of address, and failing to inform authorities of activities conducted outside the capital.

The action came shortly after the release of an Internews-Uzbekistan project that documented government press abuses. The affiliate has been unable to resume operations because authorities have frozen its bank accounts, The Associated Press reported. Internews’ affiliates around the world work with the support of the global organization, Internews Network.