Accreditation of last independent foreign broadcaster withheld

New York, December 12, 2005—Uzbekistan today denied accreditation to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), silencing the last independent foreign broadcaster reporting from the country. The Foreign Ministry wrote the U.S.-funded radio station that it would not renew accreditation for its Tashkent bureau and would withdraw the current press cards of four RFE/RL correspondents in the country.

The government of President Islam Karimov has pursued independent journalists since foreign media carried news of the May 13 massacre in the northeastern city of Andijan, where government forces shot and killed between 500 and 1,000 demonstrators, according to eyewitnesses and human rights groups. The BBC closed its Tashkent office in late October citing government harassment.

“We condemn this latest example of the Karimov regime’s contempt for press freedom,” said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “There are now virtually no independent voices left in the media inside Uzbekistan.”

The Foreign Ministry letter, which was published online by the Moscow-based Russian press freedom organization, Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said that the RFE/RL Uzbek, Turkmen, Tajik, and Kazakh Services, and the RFE/RL Tashkent Bureau “use a number of Uzbek citizens as so-called foreign correspondents who work as journalists illegally and without Foreign Ministry accreditation in the territory of Uzbekistan, thus breaking Uzbek law.”

The Ministry said it would suspend the accreditation of Uzbek Service correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov, Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulzhan Radzhapova, Tajik Service correspondent Mirasror Akhrorov, and Kazakh Service correspondent Gulnar Bayzhanova, who are all based in the capital Tashkent.

RFE/RL’s Tashkent bureau has tried to renew its accreditation which expired in August. “We appealed several times in the past four months, but the ministry only responded that our application was being reviewed, without giving us any concrete answers,” a staffer for the Prague-based broadcaster said.

“While hindered, RFE/RL will not be deterred in its efforts to report accurately and objectively about events in Uzbekistan to the people of that country and throughout Central Asia,” RFE/RL said in a statement.