Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office interrogated Sid Yanishev and Khusnitdin Kutbitdinov, two independent journalists, in Tashkent on January 7. Journalists Vasily Markov, Marina Kozlova and Abdumalik Babayev were also "invited" for questioning. Kutbitdinov is a former correspondent with RFE/RL's Uzbek service.
Yanishev spoke with RFE/RL after meeting with Bahram Nurmatov, assistant to Tashkent's prosecutor-general, who told him that the interrogation was initiated after National Security Service and Foreign Ministry files on Yanishev's activities were sent to the prosecutor's office. Yanishev said that he was shown the files and questioned about international conferences he attended, foreign payments he received, and contacts with foreign embassies. He said he was asked to sign an explanatory note at the end of the questioning, but that no charges were officially brought against him.
Kutbitdinov told RFE/RL that he also met with Nurmatov, who told him of reports alleging that he had provided "discrediting information" to foreign websites using pseudonyms. Kutbitdinov told Nurmatov that he was unfamiliar with the pseudonyms and did not write any of the information that was shown to him.
RFE/RL's investigation of the incidents suggests that the authorities are targeting journalists who have received awards or special recognition by the U.S. and Russian embassies in Tashkent. Asked about the cases, a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy said, "We have noted these reports with some concern and are in contact with the journalists affected and other sources in order to gather more details on what happened and what might be behind it."
Galima Bukharbaeva, an independent Uzbek journalist and editor of uznews.net who lives in exile in Europe, told RFE/RL that the interrogation procedure at the prosecutor's office is a typical practice used by the Uzbek government to intimidate journalists in Uzbekistan.
Reporters without Borders reacted to the incidents in a statement on January 8, saying, "The international community, which has already made too many concessions to the Uzbek authorities, should make a concertd effort to protect the country's few remaining independent journalists and prevent a new crackdown."
The statement refers to the crackdown on independent media and civil society that followed the events in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May 2005, when government troops opened fire on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, killing hundreds and causing many activists to flee the country.