The International Federation of Journalists today condemned restrictions on journalists and media in Uzbekistan, a key ally of the United States in the global ‘war on terrorism’ which has an “appalling human rights record based upon a systematic policy of repression.”
The IFJ is angry that the Uzbek authorities expelled foreign and local journalists during a weekend of violence that has shocked the region.
“There has been an appalling abuse of human rights and censorship that deserves more clear, explicit and vigorous condemnation by the United States and its allies in the global fight against terrorism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
Over the weekend protests in Andizhan, sparked by the trial of 23 Muslim businessmen and blamed by the Uzbek government on Islamic extremists, saw the expulsion of several reporters working for foreign news organisations such as AFP and Reuters, after security services in the Central Asian republic briefly detained them and warned them they were in danger.
“The local media are gagged, the foreign media are simply being told to pack up their bags and go home, and independent reporting of this crisis is being stifled,” said White. He said the incidents added to the troubling reports of how journalism is a victim in the global war on terror, outlined in a detailed report from the IFJ and the civil liberties group Statewatch issued earlier this month.
While Uzbek broadcasters show their normal scheduled programmes - including classical music concerts and documentaries – the blood on the streets as a result of attacks on protestors have left hundreds of people dead. US, Russian and British cable channels, CNN, NTV and BBC were all cut on 13 May throughout Uzbek territory and news was replaced with culture programmes and music clips. Several Russian and Uzbek independent websites were also blocked inside the country. President Islam Karimov said the violence on Saturday was led by the Islam group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The White House echoed this, referring to "terrorists". Uzbekistan, a mostly Muslim state bordering Afghanistan, provides military facilities including an air base for the US in its campaign against terrorism and Islamic extremists. However, the country has been repeatedly criticised by human rights groups for its harsh treatment of dissidents and use of torture.
“The crackdown on dissidents is part of a systematic policy of repression, which is justified by the so-called ‘war on terror’,” said White.
The concern of the IFJ and other press freedom groups over the Uzebek crisis has intensified in recent months after the intimidation and intolerant tactics of the government increased.
Sabirjon Yakubov, a journalist on the weekly Hurriyat, was arrested in the capital Tashkent on 11 April, charged with "upsetting the constitutional order" and "belonging to an extremist religious organisation" (Article 159 of the criminal code). He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Elsewhere, Ulugbek Khaidarov, an independent journalist and local leader of Ezgulik, a human rights organisation, was beaten up by a thug near his home in Jizzakh overnight on 23-24 April. Marina Kozlova, Uzbek correspondent for the US news agency United Press International (UPI), was refused accreditation by the foreign ministry on 27 April.
Although parts of the town remain sealed off, some reporters have since been able to return. “The media must be allowed unrestricted access to the region,” said White. “Without media scrutiny the scale of human rights violations is bound to increase.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries