Following an established trend, authoritarian Uzbek leader Islam Karimov promised to address journalists' concerns but did not follow through by ending the repressive climate for the press in the country. The decades-long harassment against government critics has virtually wiped out the media landscape, forcing the domestic and international community to rely on rumors or leaked diplomatic cables to get information on topics including the aging leader's health or his reaction to international events. At least four journalists remained in jail in late 2013, where they were allegedly tortured and denied appropriate medical care. Human rights activists, including those in exile, also faced official harassment and prosecution after reporting on corruption and abuses in Uzbekistan. One exiled human rights activist, Nadezhda Atayeva, was sentenced to seven years in absentia on embezzlement charges after reporting on human rights abuses. One journalist, Sergei Naumov, was jailed on fabricated charges of hooliganism just days after an Uzbek official denied jailing critics and assured the U.N. Human Rights Council that authorities were complying with international human rights standards. But this soon became hard to verify: Citing official obstruction to its work, the International Committee of the Red Cross publicly announced in April that it had terminated visits to Uzbek prisons.
Sergei Naumov, an independent journalist, went missing on September 21 in the western city of Urgench after telling his friends he was having "problems" with the police. Three days later, a local lawyer found out that police had arrested Naumov, charged him with hooliganism, investigated his case, and sentenced him to 12 days in jail--all within a few hours.
Naumov is a local contributor to several critical news outlets, including the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the regional news website Ferghana News, both of which are blocked inside the country.
Shortly after Naumov's arrest, IWPR issued a statement saying the journalist had been targeted in retaliation for his reporting on environmental issues and human rights abuses, including the government-sanctioned use of child labor during the fall cotton harvest.
September 21, 2013:
|Naumov tells his friends over the phone at 7 p.m. that he is having "problems" with the local police and asks them to look for him if he does not call back. The journalist's colleagues say that attempts to reach him are unsuccessful. Authorities deny holding the journalist, Ferghana News reports.|
September 24, 2013:
|A local lawyer succeeds in obtaining Naumov's verdict, which he shares with the press. The verdict says that a local court had sentenced the journalist on September 21 to 12 days in jail on charges of hooliganism after a local woman allegedly told the police that Naumov had tried to attack her. He is sentenced without a lawyer or any witnesses present. CPJ and other human rights and press freedom groups call on Uzbek authorities to release Naumov immediately.|
September 27, 2013:
|Authorities continue to hold Naumov incommunicado. His lawyer disputes his imprisonment at the regional court, Ferghana News reports.|
October 3, 2013:
|Naumov is released from jail after serving his prison sentence.|
For 14 years, Muhammad Bekjanov, editor of the opposition paper Erk, and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, an Erk reporter, have languished in prison in Uzbekistan. CPJ research shows that these two are the longest-imprisoned journalists in the world. Both were imprisoned on anti-state charges.
For the past 15 years, Uzbekistan has appeared on CPJ's annual prison census, which identifies journalists in prison on December 1. Year after year, Uzbek authorities have jailed critical reporters who are sentenced in retaliation for their work.
In June, members of the U.S. Senate wrote an open letter to President Karimov, asking him to update them on the status and health conditions of imprisoned journalists Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov and Dilmurod Saiid, and rights defender Akzam Turgunov. The senators also questioned the legality of their sentences, and urged the Uzbek leader to release the three men.
|Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois|
|Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois|
|John Boozman, Republican of Arkansas|
|Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont|
|Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut|
|Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico|
|Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland|
|Robert P. Casey Jr., Democrat of Pennsylvania|
|Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri|
|Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida|
|Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California|
|John McCain, Republican of Arizona|
Uzbek authorities not only cracked down on journalists throughout the year but also targeted human rights activists who publicly exposed government wrongdoing, corruption, and human rights abuses.
One exiled human rights activist, Nadezhda Atayeva, was convicted in July on fabricated embezzlement charges and sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail. Atayeva, head of the Paris-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, said the charges were in retaliation for her work.
Atayeva and her organization have reported on abuses in Uzbekistan, including the use of child labor during cotton harvesting, systematic torture in Uzbek prisons and detention facilities, the imprisonment of journalists and rights activists, and other wrongdoings. In September, Atayeva reported on the arrest and imprisonment in Uzbekistan of freelance reporter Sergei Naumov.