Government continues harassment of independent journalist

New York, August 2, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the continued harassment of Nosir Zokirov, a former correspondent for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who has already served six months in prison on a specious charge of insulting a security officer.

President Islam Karimov’s regime has continued persecuting Zokirov and his family since the journalist’s release from prison earlier this year, according to the Union of Uzbek Writers in Exile, a group of journalists who fled Uzbekistan during a wave of government harassment of the independent press in 2005.

On July 12, court officers in the eastern city of Namangan raided Zokirov’s home and confiscated his possessions, allegedly because the journalist’s son failed to pay a fine in a separate case, according to CPJ sources. “They even took the rugs on the floors and unscrewed the light bulbs from the lamps,” one source told CPJ.

Zokirov, 55, the former RFE/RL correspondent in Namangan, served six months in prison after being convicted of defaming a security services agent. He was detained, tried without counsel or witnesses, sentenced, and imprisoned all on August 26, 2005. The charge stemmed from a phone conversation in which Zokirov protested pressure being exerted by government agents on an Uzbek poet who had been interviewed by RFE/RL. In the interview, the poet had criticized Uzbek authorities for the brutal May 2005 crackdown in Andijan in which troops killed hundreds of demonstrators.

While Zokirov was in prison, Uzbek authorities harassed his son Zakhid, a human rights worker. On October 8, 2005, authorities detained the younger Zokirov as he sought to cross the Kyrgyzstan border on his way to a seminar. The son was jailed for a week and fined 940,000 Uzbek sums (US$770) on a charge of illegal border crossing, CPJ sources said. Zakhid Zokirov could not pay the fine, which is large by Uzbek standards.

Authorities raided Nosir Zokirov’s apartment on July 12, allegedly to collect Zakhid Zokirov’s fine. Authorities did not explain why the journalist’s possessions were subject to confiscation in his son’s case, CPJ sources said.

“Authorities are doing everything possible to drive me and my family out of the country,” Nosir Zokirov told CPJ. Since his release from prison in February, Zokirov said, he has been unable to find work as a journalist in Uzbekistan due to the government crackdown on the independent press.

Uzbek authorities denied accreditation to RFE/RL last December, effectively silencing the last independent broadcaster reporting in the country. The Foreign Ministry refused to renew accreditation for the agency’s Tashkent bureau and withdrew the press cards of its correspondents in Uzbekistan.

Information coming from Uzbekistan has been extremely limited following the Andijan events. Many independent and opposition journalists had to flee the country and others continued to face official harassment for their reporting. Journalists working for U.S. and Western media were labeled “traitors” and “terrorists” in the mainstream, government-controlled media, which launched a massive smear-campaign against them, according to CPJ research.

“We call on authorities to immediately stop harassing our colleague Nosir Zokirov and return his seized property,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “As President Karimov and his regime continue to suppress free expression, they are creating an information vacuum that deprives their citizens of vital news and opinion.”

Illustrating that trend, a Tashkent judge this week opened a criminal trial against Dadakhon Khasanov, a dissident poet and singer, according to local and international press reports. Khasanov, 66, under house arrest since April, is charged with insulting the president, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, and distributing threats against the public order.

The charges stem from a song Khasanov wrote and recorded in commemoration of the Andijan massacre. The song’s lyrics said: “Don’t say you haven’t seen how Andijan was drowned in blood. … The victims fell like mulberries, the children’s bloodied bodies were like tulips,” The Associated Press reported.