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In 'Shocking Move,' Uzbekistan Bars Human Rights Watch Representative


HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth (left) and banned representative Igor Vorontsov

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth (left) and banned representative Igor Vorontsov

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says one of its representatives has been barred from Uzbekistan, in violation of European Union demands.

HRW says its Tashkent representative, Igor Vorontsov, was denied work accreditation and then told by Uzbek authorities while he was abroad that he would not be allowed to return to the country.

The EU had made accreditation of an HRW representative as one of its criteria for formally ending sanctions imposed against Uzbekistan in response to the deadly government crackdown in Andijon in May 2005.

"We continue working on Uzbekistan," Vorontsov told RFE/RL from Moscow. "But the question is that it seems I cannot visit Uzbekistan, and it makes it too difficult to work objectively. We offered them dialogue, but unfortunately, Uzbekistan doesn't seem like it's ready for dialogue."

Veronika Szente Goldston, HRW's advocacy director, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that she expects the EU to maintain and uphold its sanctions policy for as long as its assessment criteria are not met. In addition to appointing an HRW representative, other EU benchmarks included the release of all wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders.

HRW says Uzbekistan continues to detain at least 11 other rights activists and journalists for politically motivated reasons.

"This was certainly a very agressive, shocking move by the Uzbek government, which was completely unexpected to us," Szente Goldston told RFE/RL. "And what we would like to see is for the international community -- in particular the European Union, the United States government, and other influential governments who have sway with the Uzbek government -- to make it absolutely clear to Tashkent just how unacceptable this kind of behavior is and that it will carry very clear and concrete policy consequences."

HRW says Tashkent was "rewarded prematurely" when EU foreign ministers decided in April to extend the suspension of the bulk of the sanctions regime on Uzbekistan, justified as being a "necessary gesture to Tashkent in recognition of a handful of positive steps it had taken."

Szente Goldston called this EU policy "misguided.”

HRW is calling on EU ambassadors to talk about rights abuses and insist that EU criteria be met when they meet with Uzbek authorities on July 28-29.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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