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RFE/RL Uzbek Correspondent Sent to Prison

(Prague, Czech Republic--August 29, 2005) A correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Uzbek Service based in Namangan, in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley near Andijon, has been sent to prison for six months for allegedly insulting a security officer. The correspondent, Nosir Zokirov, was summoned to court in Namangan on August 26, tried without the presence of defense counsel or the examination of witnesses, and sent directly to prison.

Deeply disturbed at the news, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine said, "This was a kangaroo court, bearing no resemblance to internationally accepted legal norms." Dine added, "the sentencing of Nosir Zokirov on such an absurd charge marks a new low in an intensifying campaign waged against him and other RFE/RL correspondents that was evident even before the Andijon massacre."

Zokirov was sentenced under Article 140 of the Uzbek criminal code, which makes it a criminal offense to insult a member of the security forces. The criminal complaint was based on an angry phone call Zokirov made to security police in Namangan on August 6, in which Zokirov protested attempts to pressure a local poet, Khaidarali Komilov to lie about an interview he gave Zokirov broadcast in early August.

For months, Zokirov, an experienced correspondent in his mid-fifties who has filed news reports with RFE/RL for eight years, has been targeted by local media that have published slanderous and untruthful articles about his family and lifestyle, as well as his work for RFE/RL. The campaign against Zokirov intensified after the bloody suppression of an uprising in Andijon in mid-May and after the Uzbek Service broadcast an interview by Zokirov with Komilov, who criticized the government's handling of Andijon. Zokirov was summoned several times to the local police station because of his reporting; at one point, service to his home and mobile phones was cut off.

Dine noted that at least three other native Uzbek correspondents for RFE/RL's Uzbek Service have been subject to similar pressures by Uzbek state authorities (see chronology). They and their families have received threatening phone calls, been interrogated by security officers and had recording equipment confiscated. Noting also the harrassment suffered by journalists working in Uzbekistan with the BBC, Internews Network, Institute for War and Peace Reporting and other media outlets, Dine said "it is incumbent on us, living in a free society with free media, to let the world know what is happening to Uzbek journalists inside Uzbekistan."