New York, March 15, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the Uzbek government’s tightening of controls over local and foreign journalists working for foreign state-funded media. The cabinet approved regulations February 24 giving the Foreign Ministry wide discretion to issue formal warnings to foreign correspondents, revoke their accreditation and visas, and expel them. The Uzbek press reported the decision on March 7.
The restrictions follow a government crackdown on independent journalists since foreign media carried news of a 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 publicly funded BBC closed its Tashkent bureau in October citing government harassment. The U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) closed its Tashkent office in December when the Foreign Ministry refused to renew its accreditation. Both broadcasters beamed local news back into Uzbekistan. Foreign news agencies reporting for a foreign audience such as ITAR-TASS, Xinhua, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and The Associated Press still have stringers in Tashkent.
“We condemn this latest example of the Uzbek authorities’ ongoing assault on press freedom,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “The government has now silenced virtually all independent voices in the media inside Uzbekistan.”
Article 22 of the new regulations prohibits Uzbek citizens from working for foreign state-funded media without Foreign Ministry accreditation. The article could be used to silence those few journalists who continue to provide information to Western broadcasters and Russian and European based Central Asia news Web sites.
Under Article 21 of the regulations foreign correspondents are “forbidden to call for the forceful change of the current constitutional order, violate the territorial integrity of the Republic of Uzbekistan, propagate war and violence, cruelty, national, race and religious hatred, and are also barred from interfering in the internal affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, harming the honor and dignity of citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan, interfering in their private lives and committing other actions which provide for legal accountability.”
The full text was reprinted in Russian on the Web site of the Moscow daily Gazeta http://www.gzt.uz/cgi-bin/politics.cgi?lan=r&id=45&pid=0
For a chronology of government harassment of RFE/RL staff, see: http://www.rferl.org/specials/uzbek_unrest/Uzbek-harass-chron.pdf