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Amnesty International says Uzbekistan’s government is carrying out unlawful surveillance of its citizens domestically and outside of the country.

The watchdog said in a report published on March 31 that the Uzbek government's actions are "fostering a climate of fear and uncertainty" for Uzbeks throughout Europe.

The report "reveals the far-reaching effects of mass surveillance, not only on the human rights of people in Uzbekistan, but on [Uzbek] people in Europe," said Joshua Franco, a technology and human rights researcher at Amnesty International.

The authorities "have designed a system where surveillance and the expectation of surveillance is not the exception, but the norm," he said.

Within the Central Asian country, he said, authorities have "created an environment of suspicion where surveillance, or the perceived threat of it, is an ever-present fact of life for human rights defenders, journalists and political activists.”

"But even outside the country, the effects of surveillance are being severely felt. Fear is driving a wedge between families, with refugees too afraid to contact their loved ones at home due to the terrible risk it can expose them to," the report added.

Amnesty’s report cited the cases of Uzbeks living in the country and abroad, including a refugee living in Sweden and a journalist forced to flee to France after being watched by Uzbekistan's secret service.

Human rights activists, opposition critics, and independent journalists have been forced to leave the former Soviet republic to escape arrest or harassment and intimidation by security forces and local authorities, the report said.

Uzbekistan was ruled with an iron fist since before the Soviet collapse by President Islam Karimov.

Upon his death last September, Shavkat Mirziyaev, moved into the presidency and quickly consolidated power.

He has spoken of instituting reforms in the country of some 30 million people since taking office, but critics say the moves fall far short of real reform.

The Sputnik news agnecy has been repeatedly accused of reporting false stories and of fomenting political extremism in the West. (file photo)

Slovakia's state News Agency of the Slovak Republic (TASR) says it will initiate proceedings to withdraw from a controversial contract with Russia's state Sputnik news agency.

TASR said on March 30 that it will immediately stop making Sputnik's material available to its journalists.

Sputnik announced the contract on March 29 saying it was "happy to work with a major agency like TASR" and that "this deal will help us increase information exchange between our countries."

After an uproar of protest, TASR just one day later reversed course, saying that no Sputnik material had been used during the one-month trial period that led up to the contract.

Sputnik has been repeatedly accused of reporting false stories and of fomenting political extremism in the West.

In February, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told the BBC that Sputnik's aim is "not to convince people, but to confuse them; not to provide an alternative reality, but to divide public opinions and to ultimately undermine our ability to understand what is going on."

Based on reporting by Sputnik, the BBC, and TASR

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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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