CPJ demands end to Uzbek government’s crackdown on media

New York, September 22, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on President Islam Karimov to stop scapegoating the press and to end his government’s campaign of intimidation and repression against the independent media. The government crackdown, which has targeted several international news organizations in dozens of incidents over four months, is part of a broad effort to obscure the full extent of the May 13 massacre in the eastern city of Andijan.

“We demand that President Karimov halt the politicized use of the courts, police, and security services to silence reporters,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “His government wants to hide the terrible events in Andijan and shift blame on to journalists who simply reported what happened.”

Government troops, which were sent to quell civil unrest in Andijan, opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters on May 13. Independent estimates put the death toll at 500 to 1,000 civilians that day. In the months since, retaliation against journalists has been severe, CPJ research shows. Some journalists have asked CPJ not to publicize abuses they have encountered out of fear they may face further retribution. Many other incidents, however, are on the record.

Journalists working for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have been threatened, detained, searched, and assaulted, the news organization has reported. Some have been placed under surveillance and had belongings confiscated; journalists’ families have been threatened and harassed as well. In all, RFE/RL has documented more than 30 cases of attacks on its journalists. (For details, see RFE/RL’s report).

On Monday, an appeals court in the northeastern city of Namangan upheld the recent conviction of Nosir Zokirov, a journalist for the Uzbek service of RFE/RL. Zokirov was sentenced to six months in prison on a charge related to his reporting on Andijan.

Zokirov, an Uzbek who has worked for the U.S. government-funded news service for eight years, was summoned to court, charged with insulting a security officer, tried without counsel or witnesses, sentenced, and imprisoned—all on August 26.

“We call on the authorities to release RFE/RL reporter Nosir Zokirov immediately and allow all journalists to work freely and without fear of Soviet-style repression,” CPJ’s Cooper said.
In recent weeks, authorities have initiated a smear campaign in the state media accusing journalists from BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Associated Press, and RFE/RL of organizing “informational attacks” against Uzbekistan and trying to use the protest in Andijan to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state, according to local press reports.

At least four journalists working for the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting have fled the country after being briefly detained and threatened with criminal prosecution, according to CPJ sources. Former IWPR reporter Galima Bukharbaeva, who witnessed and documented the killings in Andijan, was among those who fled.

This week, human rights monitors and journalists accused the government of staging a political “show” trial for 15 Uzbeks facing the death penalty for their alleged activities in Andijan. The trial opened Wednesday for the 15 defendants, all of whom pleaded guilty to charges of organizing the Andijan protest that triggered the government’s brutal response.

Some of the defendants repeated the government’s accusations against the foreign media. Human rights monitors have condemned the proceedings, saying authorities torture defendants to coerce false confessions.

“Following the advice of foreign journalists on how to organize the demonstrations, we imitated a peaceful revolution to create chaos,” said Muidan Sobirov, one of the defendants on trial, Agence France Presse reported. “The goal was to create an Islamic state first in the Ferghana Valley and then in Uzbekistan.”