Authoritarian leader Islam Karimov marked Media Workers Day by calling for an independent domestic press, the state news agency UzA reported, but his long-standing policies of repression belied such statements. The regime is a persistent jailer of journalists, often ranking among the worst in the region. Embattled reporter Abdumalik Boboyev faced official obstruction when he tried to travel to Germany; officials cited his prosecution in 2010 on charges of “insulting the Uzbek nation” as reason. Two other reporters faced retaliation after they participated in media seminars outside Uzbekistan. In the face of official intimidation, domestic media complied with censorship regulations and refrained from covering the popular uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa. Mindful of the role the Internet played in the Arab revolutions, Uzbek authorities expanded their list of internally blocked news websites and created a state commission to censor content in the Uzbekistan domain.
At least 18 journalists facing threats, harassment, and imprisonment have fled Uzbekistan over the past decade, according to CPJ research. Among those who have fled are the author Dina Yafasova and Galima Bukharbaeva, a 2005 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. Uzbekistan is among the world's worst nations in forcing journalists to flee, CPJ research shows.
CPJ's analysis found that all of the imprisoned journalists were convicted on fabricated charges and sentenced in retaliation for their critical reporting on regional authorities and government. Among those in custody was Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov, a reporter jailed on falsified drug charges after exposing police corruption.
1999: Muhammad Bekjanov, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Erk; sentenced to 14 and 15 years in jail respectively. They have been jailed longer than any other journalist worldwide.
2002: Gayrat Mehliboyev, freelance; sentenced in 2003 to seven years, and then in 2006 to six years in prison.
2008: Abdurakhmanov, Uznews; sentenced to 10 years.
2009: Dilmurod Saiid, freelance; sentenced to 12.5 years.
Boboyev was found guilty in 2010 on charges of “insulting the Uzbek people” in a series of articles for the U.S. government-funded Voice of America. To honor his work and recognize his persecution, a German foundation awarded Boboyev a fellowship that started in April, regional press reports said. Authorities obstructed his trip by denying him the exit visa needed to leave Uzbekistan. International advocacy prodded authorities to grant the visa in June.
Others charged with “insulting the Uzbek people”:
In August, Uzbek authorities blocked domestic access to at least 29 Russian and international news websites and online broadcasters, the independent website Uznews reported. Authorities had long blocked access to regional news websites such as Uznews and Fergana News, along with the international sites such as those of the BBC and Deutsche Welle.
Among the 2011 blacklisted websites:
--Russian independent business dailies Kommersant, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and Izvestiya
--Russia-based radio stations Ekho Moskvy and Mayak
--Other international outlets, including The Financial Times, The New York Times, and Reuters
At a June hearing, Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court ordered the closing of the Tashkent office of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. By documenting ongoing human rights abuses, HRW’s Uzbekistan researchers had provided vital news about the tightly controlled nation. After the regime cracked down on critics in the wake of the 2005 Andijan massacre, HRW was the only international human rights group to maintain an office in Uzbekistan.
A history of retaliation against HRW:
2007: A contributor to HRW and other human rights groups was jailed for more than three months.
2008: Authorities barred an HRW representative on grounds that he did not “understand Uzbek culture or traditions.”
2009: Officials deported a research consultant as she arrived in Tashkent.
2009: A researcher was assaulted in the southern city of Karshi in an attack the organization said was probably orchestrated by authorities.
2010: Authorities denied accreditation to an HRW researcher because, among other things, he “lacked experience cooperating with Uzbekistan.”