Journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka was recently threatened with prosecution in a statement by the Uzbekistan Ministry of Interior. (Photo: Agnieszka Pikulicka)

Uzbek Interior Ministry statement threatens journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka with prosecution over LGBTQ reporting

Stockholm, April 6, 2021 – Uzbek authorities should ensure that journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka can work safely, and should refrain from making legal threats against her, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On March 28, Pikulicka, a freelance correspondent for Al-Jazeera and The Guardian based in Tashkent, the capital, visited LGBTQ activist Miraziz Bazarov, who was hospitalized after being beaten earlier that day, the journalist told CPJ in a video call.

Police investigators who were present at the hospital shouted at her and told her not to talk about the attack on Bazarov, Pikulicka told CPJ. Later on March 28, she tweeted about the injuries Bazarov sustained; Pikulicka frequently posts reporting on her Twitter account, where she has about 2,900 followers.

On April 1, the Press Service of the Ministry of Interior issued a statement accusing Pikulicka of spreading “negative and unobjective information” about Uzbekistan in her tweets and violating the country’s media laws.

If charged and convicted under the laws cited in the ministry’s statement, Pikulicka could face a fine of up to 24.5 million Uzbek soums ($2,300) and the loss of her accreditation, according to the law “On the Protection of the Professional Activity of the Journalist” and the law “On the Principles and Guarantees of the Freedom of Information.”

“The Uzbekistan Ministry of Interior should spend its time ensuring that the press can work safely in the country, rather than issuing statements threatening to prosecute journalists,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Uzbekistan authorities should refrain from filing any charges against Agnieszka Pikulicka, and should investigate threats and harassment that she has received.”

In its statement, the Ministry of Interior accused the journalist of tweeting about “events that have not really occurred” and of “ignoring” the country’s media laws. In concluding, the ministry wrote, “We will return to this issue later.”

Pikulicka told CPJ that she found the statement “completely unacceptable,” denied violating any laws, and demanded an apology from the ministry.

“Otherwise, they should put me on trial so that I can prove my innocence,” she said. “Right now, this is just a piece of slander done to discredit me as a journalist, with a view to preventing me from further reporting on what is going on in Uzbekistan and the deteriorating situation in relation to human rights and freedom of speech.”

Pikulicka has recently covered violent anti-LGBTQ protests in Uzbekistan, as well as legislation banning public discussion of decriminalizing same-sex relationships online or in media outlets. Such relationships are currently a criminal offense punishable by a prison term of up to three years, according to Uzbekistan’s criminal code.

Since March 28, Pikulicka has also tweeted updates on Bazarov’s case, including the police questioning of several people who visited him in the hospital, and has written about his case in The Guardian, where she covers news throughout Central Asia.

She told CPJ that her tweets on his case have been met with trolling and personal threats, including one user who posted that “[like Bazarov], this girl too needs to be taught a lesson.”

On April 4, the journalist tweeted pictures of two unmarked cars parked outside of her home, saying it was “a typical view from my window these days,” and that, “Whenever I ask them if they need a tea or coffee they disappear.”

Previously, in February, the country’s Foreign Ministry issued an apology to Pikulicka after she revealed that she had been pressured to write positive articles about Uzbekistan in order to receive her press accreditation, and that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a Foreign Ministry official, according to media reports, a statement from the Foreign Ministry, and Pikulicka. Pikulicka is a Polish citizen working on a foreign journalist accreditation in Uzbekistan, and later received her accreditation without issue, according to those reports.

CPJ emailed the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan for comment, but did not receive any reply.