His Excellency Islam Karimov
President of Uzbekistan
Via facsimile: + (998) 71 139 5325
Dear Mr. President,
On the third anniversary of the May 13, 2005, massacre of civilians by Uzbek security forces in the city of Andijan, the Committee to Protect Journalists–an independent, nonpartisan organization that defends journalist rights worldwide–calls on you and your government to cease your unrelenting repression of Uzbekistan’s independent and opposition media.
Despite your government’s pledges to protect human rights and civil freedoms, there has been no progress made. Rather, your government continues to target independent journalists and media outlets, and to block independent reporting.
According to CPJ’s research, the press freedom conditions on the ground have severely deteriorated since Andijan. Reporters who witnessed the crackdown or reported on the events have been targeted for their work. They and their families have been subjected to harassment and surveillance by security services, their movements and reporting ability hampered, and dozens of them have fled the country for fear of their safety. The handful of local independent journalists who have remained in Uzbekistan now report only clandestinely; most do so under pseudonyms.
In the months after the massacre, international reporters had their accreditation revoked and were chased out of the country. Their local correspondents were stifled through intimidation and official pressure.
To strengthen its grip on independent media since, your government has tightened restrictions on local and international journalists working for foreign-backed media. In February 2006, the cabinet approved broadly worded regulations that gave the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wide discretion to issue formal warnings to foreign correspondents and expel them.
With the international community watching your government today, we would like to bring to your attention several issues of particular concern.
- Politicized imprisonment of journalists:
According to CPJ research, five independent and opposition journalists are currently in state custody in retaliation for their reporting. They are serving sentences ranging from five to 15 years on trumped-up charges–from embezzlement of funds to participating in anti-constitutional activities. Among those wrongfully imprisoned is your nephew Dzhamshid Karimov. Karimov, a former correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, in the central region of Jizzakh, who criticized regional authorities in his articles, disappeared in September 2006 only to be discovered in a psychiatric hospital in the city of Samarkand; there was no medical exam and diagnosis justifying such treatment. Since the day of his illegal detention in 2006, Karimov has been held incommunicado.
- Ban on international broadcasters:
Since Andijan, international media, including broadcasters BBC, Deutsche Welle, RFE/RL, the Russian channels NTV and REN-TV, as well as IWPR, have had their accreditation denied, or their bureaus have been forced to shut down in the face of continued harassment and intimidation of their correspondents. In 2007, at least two correspondents of Deutsche Welle were forced to leave the country after enduring harassment by tax police and Tashkent prosecutors.
- Informal censorship:
CPJ interviewed several regional journalists and media experts, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of harassment. They confirmed that restrictions imposed by your regime have all but eliminated the independent press corps in the country, thus turning it into an informational black hole. The journalists interviewed by CPJ spoke of strict supervision by security services and local officials, and the existence of a list of topics on which it is forbidden to report. This list, they told CPJ, is unofficial and distributed to editors by representatives of your administration and the National Security Service (SNB). This list forbids critical reporting on: the 2005 Andijan events; the president and his family; human rights abuses; opposition party activities; and social and economic problems in the country among other topics.
Having eliminated all alternative sources of information, all news comes from government-approved sources. The destruction of public debate on sensitive issues violates both Uzbek law and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Uzbekistan is a signatory, and in fact diminishes the effect of your government’s goodwill efforts to implement anti-corruption policies, and social and economic reforms.
Mr. President, guided by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we urge you to undertake immediate measures to improve your country’s appalling press freedom record.
We call for the immediate release and rehabilitation of imprisoned journalists and writers; the reinstatement of accreditation for the BBC, RFE/RL, Deutsche Welle, and IWPR reporters; the repeal of regulations barring local journalists from giving interviews and working for foreign media outlets; the lifting of control over Internet content; the outlawing of all forms of censorship, including banned topics lists and supervision of reporting by the security services.
CPJ respectfully reminds you that the right to seek, receive, and impart information is guaranteed under several international covenants to which Uzbekistan is a party–including in its role as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. On the basis of your commitment to these fundamental freedoms, we urge you to address our concerns. Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter. We await your reply.