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Uzbekistan: Authorities Try To Control Reporting On Crisis

  • Valentinas Mite

Uzbek authorities are doing everything to impose a media blackout on reporting about the recent violence in eastern Uzbekistan. While Uzbek state-controlled media presents only the official position, foreign journalists are kept away from the zones of unrest. Human rights and media groups are concerned and urge the authorities to allow journalists to operate freely. [For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan --> /specials/uzbek_unrest/ ]

Prague, 17 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek state-controlled media presents only the official version of the recent violence in Andijon and other parts of eastern Uzbekistan.

Here is how the host of State TV Channel 1's "Tahlilnoma" analytical weekly described the situation today: "Undoubtedly, events in Andijon will be analyzed from different angles, conclusions will be made, and lessons learned. However, what is very clear is that some people with 'black wills' will not become an obstacle for the great caravan of our country moving towards its bright future."

Andrei Babitskii, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Russian Service, is one of the few foreign journalists in Andijon. He says Uzbek state media gives almost no information on the situation in the region.

"Practically, they give no information at all," he said. "During the two days they broadcast [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's statement, where he gave his own version of the events, which very much differs from what happened in reality. Yesterday [16 May], local TV broadcast information saying that everything is in order in Andijon, that people hate extremists, and life gets back to normal. In short, the usual Soviet-type propaganda."

Babitskii says it would be completely impossible for Uzbek citizens to understand what is going on in eastern Uzbekistan if they followed only the official media coverage. And he says the difficulty of getting information from any non-state media is even greater for those who live in Andijon itself.

There, local newspapers have been stopped from publishing and the popular radio station Didor has been taken off the air. Babitskii says that the town is also cut off from the Internet.

Several journalists were in Andijon when violence broke out on 13 May. The violence saw an armed group attack a prison to free hundreds of prisoners. After a crowd of several thousand people later gathered around a seized building in the city center to demonstrate against the government, an uncertain number of people were killed in firing by security forces. Tashkent says 30 were killed but witnesses and human rights groups put the number at over 500. Additional violence has been reported over the past few days in other parts of eastern Uzbekistan near the Kyrgyz border, with mixed reports of fatalities.

Journalists in the region, most of whom worked for foreign organizations, have been told to leave zones of unrest for security reasons.

International media organizations and human rights groups are concerned that there have been human rights violations in Andijon and elsewhere in eastern Uzbekistan and have protested the restrictions imposed on the media.

Diana Orlova of the Vienna-based International Press Institute told RFERL today that the Uzbek media is strongly controlled by the government and unable to report events independently.

"Journalists and media are controlled by the government," she said. "There's a lot of self-censorship. The journalists are afraid to write about critical issues. There is only a limited list of subjects on which the journalists are allowed to write freely. And what they can really write about is the harvest, a play that was recently put up. But they can't write about political events."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says in recent press release that the authorities maintain a virtual blockade on news coverage of civil unrest in Uzbekistan. It says the authorities prevent journalists from reporting on violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Andijon, the main city in the impoverished Ferghana Valley.

Those journalists who do not agree with the official version of events are harassed and intimidated. Nozir Zokir, a correspondent from RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in the country, says his fixed telephone line is being cut as well as his mobile phone.

"Now my home and mobile phones were cut off [on 14 May]," Zokir said. " Yesterday [15 May], in order to know the reason we went to the Uzdunrobita telephone company with a group of people consisting of our neighbors and human rights activists. There were some people on duty. They told us that their boss ordered them to cut off the following numbers and they can't reconnect them. We recorded what they said."

Nadira Hidoyatova, an opposition activist, says authorities are doing everything to cut people from foreign news sources, too. "The first thing that is violated now is our right to get information. It is not only the case that the local press does not reports [on the events] but Russian TV [channels] are turned off. Such Internet sites as centrasia.ru, fergana.ru are also being switched off,” Hidoyatova said.

Access to Russian and foreign television news channels transmitted via cable has been cut. Satellite channels are still accessible to those with satellite dishes.

(RFE/RL’s Uzbek and Russian services and correspondent Don Hill contributed to this story.)
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