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Komil Allamjonov, the head of Uzbekistan's Information and Mass Communication Agency

The head of Uzbekistan's Information and Mass Communication Agency has said that access to a dozen news and human rights websites has been restored in the authoritarian Central Asian country.

Komil Allamjonov posted on Facebook on May 10 that "certain technical issues" had been resolved and local access to the websites had been restored.

Some of the sites had been blocked since 2004.

Allamjonov said the newly accessible sites include the BBC's Uzbek Service, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Eurasianet, AsiaTerra, the Fergana Agency, and other information resources.

The websites of rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders were also reportedly unblocked.

The website of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and those of several other prominent private news agencies were not included in Allamjonov's post.

RFE/RL has not been able to independently confirm that the websites are actually accessible in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek activist Alisher Ilkhamov, who lives in London, posted on Facebook that it was "too early" to celebrate because of the websites that remain blocked.

"If the 'technical problems' remain for those websites, it will seem less like a step toward freedom of speech and more like a policy of divide and conquer," Ilkhamov wrote. "In this case, it will be the journalism community that is divided. If the lucky ones remain silent about those less fortunate, then that policy will have been a success."

Last month, Harlem Desir, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called on Tashkent to end the blocking of media websites.

"I have written to the authorities asking them to set forth a series of reforms to ensure unhindered access to online media in the country," Desir was quoted as saying in an OSCE press release.

"I call on authorities to restore access to the blocked websites and reform the laws and regulations affecting access to information and freedom of expression in the country," he concluded.

Many media and rights organization were de facto banned in Uzbekistan after the government's violent suppression of protests in the city of Andijon in 2005. Hundreds of protesters are believed to have been shot dead by security forces during the violence.

The decision to unblock the websites could be part of a gradual opening up of the country following the death of longtime dictator Islam Karimov in 2016.

"I would like to note that the President of Uzbekistan constantly emphasizes the need to ensure freedom of speech and information in Uzbekistan," Allamjanov wrote, referring to Karimov's successor, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

With reporting by AFP
Mena Mangal

KABUL -- Afghan officials say prominent former television journalist Mena Mangal has been shot dead in Kabul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Raimi said Mangal was shot dead in Kabul's 8th district early on May 11 as she was waiting for a car.

Witnesses to the shooting near Kabul's Karte Naw market told RFE/RL that two men appeared on a motorcycle and fired four shots into the air to disperse passersby. They then fired two shots that hit Mangal in the chest.

Mangal's relatives confirmed that she had been waiting for a ride to take her to her job as a cultural adviser to the Wolesi Jirga, the lower chamber of Afghanistan's parliament.

The gunmen then fled the scene.

Prominent Afghan Journalist Shot Dead In Kabul
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Police spokesman Ferdows Faramarz told RFE/RL that "all aspects of the case" were under investigation, adding that Mangal's father had named a possible suspect.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing.

Mangal worked for more than a decade as a presenter for the private Ariana TV, the private TOLO Pashto-language television channel Lamar, and the private national television broadcaster Shamshad TV.

She also ran popular social-media pages that discussed the rights of Afghan women to work and for Afghan girls to go to school.

Mangal had written extensively about being forced into an arranged marriage in 2017 and the process she had to go through to obtain a divorce, which was confirmed in early May.

Mangal had posted recently on her social-media pages that she was receiving death threats from unknown sources.

Relatives told RFE/RL that there were "problems" with her former in-laws.

Police spokesman Raimi said a special police unit was investigating Mangal's killing.

Raimi said Mangal's assailants escaped from the scene after the shooting.

Afghan Taliban leaders have said at recent peace talks with U.S. negotiators that they are no longer insisting on their notorious ban against girls’ education and employment for women.

But Afghan women’s rights activists are wary about that claim and have expressed concerns that a peace deal with the Taliban could foster a return of Taliban-era repressions.

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