CPJ condemns harassment of BBC and foreign media

New York, October 26, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the government harassment of foreign media in Uzbekistan, which today prompted the BBC to close its Tashkent bureau. The BBC World Service said it would immediately close its office and withdraw staff because of continued harassment since its reporting of the May 13 massacre in the northeast city of Andijan. Other local and foreign media have been intimidated since the killing of between 500 and 1000 anti-government protesters by troops.

“We demand that President Islam Karimov’s government stop harassing the BBC and other media in retaliation for reporting on Andijan,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The massacre is a matter of record and the Uzbek authorities cannot wish it away by intimidating and smearing journalists who write about it.”

In recent weeks, authorities have initiated a smear campaign in the state media accusing journalists from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Associated Press, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (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.

BBC correspondent Monica Whitlock left Uzbekistan in June and another six BBC staffers have followed her since being threatened and harassed by authorities, the BBC said.

The Uzbek service of RFE/RL has documented more than 30 cases of attacks against its journalists, including Nosir Zokirov who was imprisoned in August for six months on a charge related to his reporting on Andijan.