Accessibility links

Uzbekistan: New Reports Say Media Harassed Post-Andijon

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova

http://gdb.rferl.org/DBFF18EF-A87A-47EB-B1F5-E6EC315F9094_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/DBFF18EF-A87A-47EB-B1F5-E6EC315F9094_mw800_mh600.jpg Andijon following the crackdown on 13 May Uzbek police have again detained independent journalist Tolqin Qoraev, just two days after his release from jail in the southern city of Qarshi. Qoraev was later released, but human rights activists say he is just one of several victims of a government crackdown on the independent media that has intensified since the unrest in Andijon in mid-May. The media harassment was outlined in reports released this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

Prague, 15 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Tolqin Qorayev, a correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) as well as Iranian Radio's Uzbek Service, spent 10 days in an Uzbek prison on charges of "hooliganism."

Qoraev, who once freelanced for RFE/RL, was released on 14 June. Two days later, for reasons that remain unclear, he was again detained. And just as suddenly, he was released again the same day.

Qoraev later spoke to RFE/RL's Tajik Service, saying he still does not understand why he was detained a second time.

"I don’t know, they didn’t give any explanation," he said. "I was on my way to Tashkent, where I wanted to get medical treatment; they forced me to return."

Local and international human rights advocates say his detention is a part of a government campaign against independent journalists who have covered, among other issues, the recent unrest in Andijon.

Yesterday, the OSCE's released a report listing several examples of harassment of Russian and Western media by Uzbek authorities during and after the unrest, in which hundreds of civilians were believed to have been killed after Uzbek troops opened fire on demonstrators.
"We released this report to demonstrate the scale of violations of journalists' rights who worked in Andijon since 13 May. The second purpose of the report is to demonstrate how widely Uzbek laws are violated regarding dissemination of objective information; how Uzbekistan's Constitution, which declares freedom of speech and citizens' rights to get independent information, is violated as well."


The OSCE report was prepared in collaboration with the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, which released a 30-page report on the Andijon events earlier in the week.

"First of all, we released this report to demonstrate the scale of violations of journalists' rights who worked in Andijon since 13 May," the center's director, Oleg Panfilov, told RFE/RL. "The second purpose of the report is to demonstrate how widely Uzbek laws are violated regarding dissemination of objective information; how Uzbekistan's constitution, which declares freedom of speech and citizens' rights to get independent information, is violated as well."

Panfilov said the center faced numerous problems while working on the report.

"I should say, it was quite difficult to do it because, first of all, the telephone connection was very bad, especially during the first days [of the Andijon crisis] from 13 to 15 May," Panfilov said. "Secondly, many journalists, particularly Uzbeks, were afraid to talk to us as they were threatened [by Uzbek authorities]. They were told that they and their relatives would have a lot of problems. Uzbek journalists told us that Uzbek security service officers were collecting information about names of their children and other relatives."

Both reports focus on coverage of the Andijon events and Tashkent's handling of the media during the crisis. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations as well as the OSCE's top media representative concluded that the Uzbek government blocked news coverage and intensified harassment of journalists and of Internet and television outlets during and after the events in Andijon.

The findings included the following:

* On 13 May, local Internet providers blocked access to most Russian websites, including leading news sources such as ferghana.ru and lenta.ru. Local Internet cafes introduced a 10,000 Uzbek sum ($10) fine for logging on to independent sites -- twice as much as the fine for accessing pornographic sites.

International cable television channels were also blocked.

Foreign correspondents were expelled from Andijon on 15 May. Some local journalists, like Qoraev, were later imprisoned.

Meanwhile, state-run media launched a propaganda campaign featuring its own version of events and criticizing foreign media coverage. Uzbek journalists working for foreign media, including RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, have become a subject of a special campaign. They are labeled "traitors to their people and to their motherland" in the Uzbek press.

"As they [state-controlled media] say, foreign media correspondents equipped with advanced technology misinterpret information, edit all pieces as they wish and broadcast," said Alimardon Annaev, a Tashkent-based independent media analyst. "OK, let's assume they [foreign media] don't tell the truth and there is a lot of slandering of the Uzbek government. Then why don't the Uzbek media show pictures of 'terrorists' and 'Islamic extremists' who were in Andijon on 13 May, as they say?"

Annaev said the state-controlled media are losing the information battle with foreign media as they are unable to provide proof of their version of the Andijon events.

Panfilov agreed. He said the Uzbek authorities are used to using these methods despite being ineffective.

"There's nothing unusual in this, as [Uzbek President] Islam Karimov came to power with the first wave of post-Soviet presidents after being the first secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party," Panfilov said. "He and his administration still have a Soviet type of thinking. They believe that publishing several articles in their press against foreign media helps improve the situation. [However], the reality has changed and despite all attempts by the Uzbek authorities to hide information, people learn the truth."

The OSCE report says that a lack of cooperation between government sources and independent human rights activists and journalists is making it impossible to establish facts about the Andijon unrest as well as the exact death toll.

"The gap between the government and press reports on the events, and the differing casualty figures, are telling signs of an information blockade; of a lack of mutually-agreed verification procedures; and of a lack of cooperation between the authorities and the press," the report says.

"Working with the press in times of crisis is a learning process, but it is also an important contribution to the peaceful solution of crises, as it is part of society's right to information," it adds.

The OSCE's Vienna-based media representative who contacted Uzbek authorities while preparing the report also offered to arrange training courses for Uzbek officials to ensure cooperation between the government and the press.

Panfilov said the government's tough approach to the media is unlikely to ease. He said Qoraev's case only proves it.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek and Tajik services contributed to this report.)
XS
SM
MD
LG