Stockholm, July 5, 2022 – In response to news reports that journalist Lolagul Kallykhanova has gone missing after covering protests in Uzbekistan’s western semi-autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for authorities to provide any information on her whereabouts:
“The disappearance of journalist Lolagul Kallykhanova is deeply concerning; Uzbek authorities should make public any information they have about her whereabouts and ensure that she is not persecuted over her reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists must be able to report freely in Karakalpakstan and throughout Uzbekistan, and authorities must ensure that they are able to do so safely and without censorship.”
On July 1, Kallykhanova, who runs the independent Makan.uz news website and accompanying Telegram channel, posted a video on her channel, which CPJ reviewed, concerning Karakalpakstan’s status amid proposed constitutional changes that would bar the region from holding an independence referendum. That video has since been removed from her Telegram channel, which has about 85,000 followers.
Kallykhanova’s whereabouts have been unknown since she posted that video, according to the independent regional news website Eurasianet, which said that security forces had detained the journalist. Kallykhanova’s sister told the outlet on July 2 that she had lost touch with her, Eurasianet reported.
The proposed amendments have sparked protests throughout Karakalpakstan, according to news reports, which said that authorities have restricted internet access throughout the region.
On July 3, the state-owned broadcaster Karakalpak 24 published a report citing the journalist’s family and saying she was “fine,” without providing further details.
CPJ was unable to find contact information for Kallykhanova’s family or the State Security Service of Uzbekistan; CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry for comment but did not receive any reply.
Separately, on July 4, police in the Karakalpakstan capital, Nukus, briefly detained and questioned Joanna Lillis, a British journalist who contributes to outlets including The Economist and Eurasianet, according to Lillis, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and a tweet by Eurasianet editor Peter Leonard.
Lillis was recording interviews with local residents when police forced her to delete photos and videos from her phone, held her for about an hour, and then apologized for detaining her but repeatedly told her to “be careful” as she left the police station, which she said may have been a veiled warning about her work.
Also, on June 27, independent news website Gazeta.uz removed two articles about proposed amendments to the Uzbek constitution, including one on the status of Karakalpakstan, according to multiple news reports. Gazeta.uz declined to comment on the issue to CPJ; citing a source at the outlet, the BBC’s Uzbek service said the removals had been made “under pressure.”
[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its ninth paragraph to reflect that police forced Lillis to delete photos and videos from her phone.]