Uzbekistan targets reporters for German broadcaster

New York, March 16, 2006—The Foreign Ministry has invoked restrictive new regulations to reprimand three correspondents working for the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, escalating pressure on the few remaining local journalists working for foreign media, according to international press reports.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry revoked the accreditation of Deutsche Welle correspondent Obid Shabanov for filing an allegedly “inaccurate” news report in January about 30 people who froze to death after their bus broke down in the desert. The Foreign Ministry claimed the event never happened.

Deutsche Welle correspondents stood by the report. “Obid Shabanov has the relatives crying recorded on audiotape,” Reuters quoted another Deutsche Welle correspondent, Yuri Chernogayev, as saying. “All of the town of Bukhara knows about it.”

The Foreign Ministry also issued formal warnings to Chernogayev, instructing him not to work with non-accredited journalists, and to fellow Deutsche Welle correspondent Solih Yakhyaev, alleging that he was working without accreditation, the Moscow-based news Web site reported.

In taking steps against the Deutsche Welle reporters, the Foreign Ministry relied on regulations approved by the cabinet on February 24. The rules give the Foreign Ministry wide discretion to issue formal warnings to foreign correspondents, to revoke their accreditation and visas, and to expel them. The Uzbek press reported the decision on March 7.

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 to Russian and European-based news Web sites.

Under Article 21, foreign correspondents are 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 of the regulations was reprinted in Russian on the Web site of the Moscow daily Gazeta:

“Uzbek leaders are not only drawing a curtain around their country’s borders to block the free flow on information to the rest of the world, they are escalating efforts to keep their own citizens in the dark,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the government to roll back these repressive steps and to allow journalists to report freely.”

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 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.