(Prague, Czech Republic -- June 11, 2008)
Earlier this week, authorities in Uzbekistan arrested former RFE/RL journalist and human rights activist Solijon Abdurahmanov. At first, Abdurahmanov was charged with illegal possession of narcotics after police claimed to discover drugs in his car after it was left in a repair shop. However, in the face of an obviously weak case, Uzbek officials raided Abdurahmanov's home and personal computer and are now claiming to have evidence of "anti-government" activity.
"This is disturbing news, although I'm sad to say it is not surprising," says Jeffrey Gedmin, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "Uzbekistan has one of the worst records in the world regarding press freedom. If President Islam Karimov is eager to rehabilitate his country's reputation, he should stop treating free speech as a criminal offense and let Abdurahmanov and nearly 20 other journalists and human rights defenders out of prison immediately. "
Abdurahmanov was an RFE/RL correspondent until 2005, when the Tashkent bureau was closed after the Andijon crackdown, in which troops loyal to Uzbekistan President Karimov opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing around 700 people, including women and children. Last month, on the third anniversary of Andijon, Uzbek police arrested and detained former RFE/RL journalist Nosir Zokirov,
the first reporter to cover the Andijon massacre.
Abdurahmanov is a native of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in western Uzbekistan, and is chairman of the Karakalpak branch of the Miami-based International Human Rights Society. He writes frequently about the region for independent media and is a contributor to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Reacting to the news, the international media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) says
: "We condemn Abdurahmanov's arrest just as the authorities were organizing a conference on media freedom in Tashkent. It is proof of the cynicism of a government that continues to jail journalists and human rights activists. As in previous cases, the drug charge seems to be just a pretext for portraying a prisoner of conscience as an ordinary detainee."
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service broadcasts six hours of programming a day to Uzbekistan via shortwave, medium wave and satellite broadcasts. Programming is also available online at www.ozodlik.org.
English-language news from Uzbekistan can be found on the RFE/RL website at www.rferl.org.