New York, November 8, 2021 – Uzbek authorities should allow journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka to enter the country and work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday afternoon, Uzbek officials at the Zhibek Zholy-Gisht Kuprik (Chernyaevka) border crossing with Kazakhstan denied entry to Pikulicka, a Polish citizen and freelance correspondent for Al-Jazeera and The Guardian, saying she had been banned from the country, according to news reports, tweets by the journalist, and Pikulicka, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Pikulicka said she arrived at the border crossing at about 2:30 p.m., hoping to briefly cross into Kazakhstan and then return to Uzbekistan to renew her 30-day visa, a process she had had to do since Uzbek authorities refused to extend her accreditation earlier this year, but which she had done in the past without issue. However, Kazakh authorities denied her entry to the country citing COVID-19 regulations, and when she tried to return to the Uzbek side, border guards told her she was banned, she said.
Pikulicka spent the night at the Uzbek border station, and authorities told her she needed to stay at the station until tomorrow morning, when she is scheduled to take a flight from Tashkent, the capital, out of the country, she told CPJ.
“Uzbek authorities have trapped journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka in bureaucratic limbo by refusing to allow her into the country,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “If newly reelected Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s promises of expanding press freedom are to retain any credibility, authorities must either offer a legitimate reason for refusing Pikulicka entry or allow her to return to Uzbekistan and continue her work.”
In April, the Uzbek interior ministry issued a statement accusing Pikulicka of spreading “negative and unobjective information” about Uzbekistan and violating the country’s media laws with her reporting on LGBT rights advocate Miraziz Bazarov, as CPJ documented at the time. In June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to extend her accreditation on account of her work “degrading the honor and dignity” of Uzbek citizens and “interfering in [Uzbekistan’s] internal affairs,” which Pikulicka told CPJ at the time she believed was retaliation for the same reporting.
Pikulicka was able to continue reporting from Uzbekistan despite her lack of accreditation, but was not able to obtain interviews with government officials, she told CPJ.
After denying her entry, the Uzbek border officials first would not allow Pikulicka to wait inside the checkpoint building, and forced her to wait outside in the cold for about seven hours, she told CPJ, adding that a friend brought her warm clothes and a sleeping bag, and she was eventually allowed to sleep inside the building at about 2 or 3 a.m.
Since then, the border staff have been kind and provided her with warm drinks and a room where she can sit, she told CPJ.
Polish Embassy staff confirmed the existence of the ban and were trying to establish the reasons for it and how long it will be in effect, Pikulicka told CPJ, adding that the Polish Embassy was responsible for negotiating her flight out the country.
Pikulicka called Uzbek authorities’ decision “heartbreaking” and “devastating,” saying that her friends, apartment, and much of her work had been in Uzbekistan for more than three years. Authorities told her that she would not be able to go to her apartment before leaving on tomorrow’s flight, Pikulicka said.
She said she had no idea why authorities chose this moment to act against her, saying she has not reported on Uzbekistan frequently in recent weeks and had not received any warning from authorities.
CPJ called and emailed the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment, but did not receive any replies.
After the publication of this article, a representative from the Polish Embassy in Uzbekistan replied to CPJ’s emailed request for comment and confirmed that Pikulicka had been blocked from entering the country. The embassy noted that its staff was able to assist Pikulicka by providing her with food and securing her lodging during negotiations with Uzbek authorities.
The embassy did not answer CPJ’s questions about any reason for the entry ban.
[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include the Polish Embassy’s response to CPJ.]