January 23, 2017
President of Uzbekistan
Via email: [email protected]
Dear President Mirziyoyev,
A month after your inauguration as Uzbekistan’s second president, we at the Committee to Protect Journalists are writing to urge you to reverse the repressive media policies of your predecessor, the late President Islam Karimov, and to dismantle damaging restrictions on the work of journalists in the country.
During your campaign, you promised reforms to make the government more accountable to citizens. One of the surest ways to achieve this accountability would be to guarantee that independent news media are able to report without fear of reprisal. Your predecessor all but eradicated the independent and critical press in the years since 2005, jailing critical journalists and forcing others into exile.
Though Uzbekistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the right to seek and disseminate information (article 29), freedom of media (article 67), and bans censorship (Article 67), Uzbekistan is the leading jailer of journalists in Central Asia. At least four journalists are imprisoned for doing their jobs. Another has been committed to a psychiatric hospital against his will. Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, of the opposition newspaper Erk, are the longest-imprisoned journalists worldwide, CPJ research shows. Both were jailed in September 1999 on politicized charges. Bekjanov was sentenced to 14 years in prison and Ruzimuradov was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In January 2012, shortly before Bekjanov was scheduled to be released, authorities sentenced him to five more years in prison, alleging he had violated unspecified prison rules. Similarly, Ruzimuradov, who was due to be released in May 2014, was sentenced to additional three years in prison for violating prison rules.
In 2009, a court sentenced Dilmurod Saiid, who had reported on official abuses against farmers in the Samarkand region for the independent news website Voice of Freedom, to 12 years and six months in prison on extortion and forgery charges. Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov, who reported on corruption in regional law enforcement agencies for the now-defunct independent news website Uznews and contributed to the U.S.-government-funded broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America, is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of drug possession. He was sentenced in 2008. CPJ considers the charges to be retaliation for his reporting.
Dzhamshid Karimov, a nephew of late President Islam Karimov, has been detained in a psychiatric ward in Samarkand since January 2012 for reporting on the dire social and economic situation in his region. This is Karimov’s second detention in the facility: He was involuntarily committed from September 2006-November 2011. All of the mentioned journalists have health problems that have worsened as a result of their incarceration. Bekjanov, Ruzimuradov, and Saiid suffer from acute tuberculosis; Abdurakhmanov and Karimov have stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Although Uzbekistan is the largest country in Central Asia, with a population of more than 32 million, only 33 foreign correspondents, representing mostly state news agencies from 10 countries had accreditation with the Foreign Ministry as of January 3, 2017, according to the list published on the ministry’s official page. The government shut down the bureaus of media outlets such as the BBC World Service, RFE/RL, The Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, and IWPR after security forces killed hundreds of protesters in the eastern town of Andijan in May 2005. While foreign reporters were ejected from the country, Uzbek reporters were jailed or chose to flee following threats and official harassment targeting them and their family members, according to CPJ research.
We urge you to use the authority of your office to make good on your campaign promise to make the government more accountable to its citizens, beginning with an immediate order to release Bekjanov, Ruzimuradov, Saiid, Abdurakhmanov, and Karimov, and by clearly stating that your government will not jail journalists for their work. Removing all barriers to Uzbeks’ ability to read the news online, and again welcoming foreign journalists to cover Uzbekistan without restriction at this important moment of transition would also signal commitment to press freedom.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these pressing issues directly.
Advocacy Director Committee to Protect Journalists
CC: Embassy of Uzbekistan to the United States Embassy of Uzbekistan to Belgium