Police officers are seen in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on July 23, 2020. Two journalists were recently harassed, and one was beaten, at a soccer stadium in the city. (AFP/Yuri Korsuntsev)

Two journalists detained, 1 beaten at Uzbekistan soccer stadium

Stockholm, June 22, 2022 – Uzbekistan authorities should thoroughly and transparently investigate the recent harassment and detention of two journalists with the independent broadcaster Sevimli TV’s news program Zamon at a soccer match and ensure that any law enforcement officers who obstruct or attack the press are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

According to a report by Zamon, which was subsequently deleted and then reposted to Facebook by Uzbek journalist Jasurbek Abdurakhmonov, and a post on Telegram by Olimjon O’sarov, head of Uzbekistan’s Creative Union of Journalists, a nominally independent trade group, on the evening of June 11, police and National Guard officers detained two journalists with the program, and beat one of them, after they attempted to enter the Pakhtakor soccer stadium in Tashkent, the capital. Other news outlets also reported on the incident, citing the deleted Zamon report.

In a statement, the Uzbek Ministry of Interior identified one of the journalists as T. Ibrokhimov, a camera operator, and said he was injured amid a crowd of unruly soccer fans outside the stadium, but did not say police had injured him. CPJ contacted the other journalist, but they declined to comment and have not been publicly identified.

Zamon reported that officers beat Ibrokhimov, briefly held both journalists, and Ibrokhimov later received treatment at a local hospital. A Health Ministry spokesperson said Ibrokhimov had sustained a fractured jaw and had been advised to undergo plastic surgery, reports said.

“Uzbekistan authorities must thoroughly investigate the recent harassment of two journalists with Sevimli TV’s Zamon program and ensure that anyone—whether police or civilians—who beat the camera operator identified as T. Ibrokhimov are held to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must ensure that no attempts are made to conceal police abuses, and that the media can cover this case and all other newsworthy events freely.”

CPJ emailed, messaged, and called Zamon and Sevimli TV for comment, but did not receive any replies. Zamon removed its initial report on the incident, but has since continued to cover the case, reporting on statements of support and concern by local media organizations.

According to the deleted Zamon report, the officers denied the journalists entry to the stadium, and when they started to film from outside, officers grabbed their camera and press passes, threw the press passes to the ground, and twisted each journalist’s arm. Officers took both journalists into custody, confiscated their equipment, and a group of six or seven police officers and one National Guard officer kicked and hit Ibrokhimov, shocked him with a taser, and when he fell to the ground, kicked him in the stomach and head and beat him on the leg with a baton.

Police then brought both the journalists to the Shaykhontohur district police station, from which an ambulance took Ibrokhimov to receive medical attention, according to Zamon.

The reporter told his employer that he was able to retrieve a broken camera and tripod from police the following morning, but not his microphone or their press passes.

In its statement, the Ministry of Interior alleged that Ibrokhimov sustained injuries “during fighting” amid a crowd of fans trying to force their way into the stadium. That statement said that an investigation was underway into the events “to identify citizens who violated public order.”

The Creative Union of Journalists, the Agency of Information and Mass Communications, a state body that reports to the presidential administration, and the National Media Association of Uzbekistan, an association of independent media outlets, have all called for an investigation into the incident.

CPJ’s emails to the National Guard and the Interior Ministry seeking comment were returned undelivered. CPJ messaged the ministry and spokesperson Shohruh G’iyosov on their official Facebook pages, but did not receive any replies.

CPJ is also investigating a report alleging that a local photographer and a foreign camera operator, whose names were not disclosed, were injured by stones thrown by Uzbekistan fans during the soccer match, and that the photographer required medical attention.