In Uzbekistan, Deutsche Welle reporter faces criminal charges

New York, March 27, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the filing of criminal charges against Natalya Bushuyeva, Tashkent-based correspondent for the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle. On Friday, the prosecutor’s office in the Uzbek capital charged Bushuyeva with tax evasion as well as concealing her income and working as a reporter without accreditation, according to CPJ sources and international press reports.

Bushuyeva is the first journalist to be formally charged under a 2006 law that prohibits Uzbek citizens from working for foreign state-funded media without Foreign Ministry accreditation. In addition, the prosecutor’s office told the Moscow-based Regnum news agency that Bushuyeva did not declare her income to local tax authorities while working for Deutsche Welle over the past five years. Aleksandr Varkentin, a Deutsche Welle editor, called the tax charge unfounded. He said Bushuyeva pays taxes in accordance with a bilateral agreement between Germany and Uzbekistan, the independent news Web site Uznews reported.

Deutsche Welle Director-General Erik Bettermann also criticized the charges against Bushuyeva. In a statement published on the Deutsche Welle Web site, Bettermann urged Uzbek authorities to “stop blocking the work of free journalists.” The German broadcaster has requested an official explanation from the Uzbek Embassy in Berlin, the statement said.

Bushuyeva fled the country after the charges were announced, local sources told CPJ. The journalist’s lawyer, Sukhrob Ismailov, said she faces up to three years in jail if convicted, The Associated Press reported.

“The simultaneous filing of tax and accreditation charges—coupled with Uzbekistan’s unrelenting hostility toward independent journalists—leads us to conclude that this is a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass Natalya Bushuyeva,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “These charges should be dropped immediately.”

Deutsche Welle correspondents have been harassed in the past. In March 2006, three correspondents were officially reprimanded in connection with their reporting for the broadcaster.

Since the brutal Andijan crackdown in May 2005, Uzbek authorities have used trumped-up charges to jail a number of independent journalists. Five journalists were held in Uzbekistan prisons when CPJ conducted its annual worldwide survey in December 2006, making the country the world’s sixth leading jailer of journalists. A sixth journalist, Umida Niyazova was jailed in February of this year. Uzbek authorities have not responded to several CPJ inquires regarding the journalists’ location and condition.