Harassment and intimidation of independent journalists has increased following the Andijon bloodshed in May. This according to Qudrat Bobojonov and Tolqin Qorayev, two correspondents from the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Qorayev was arrested last June and sentenced to a jail term, and was only released after pressure from the international community. Bobojonov says the IWPR has had to suspend its activities in Uzbekistan.
Prague, 14 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Qorayev, who works for both IWPR and the Uzbek service of Radio of Iran, says he fled Uzbekistan in late June after near-constant harassment from Uzbek authorities.
In this interview with RFE/RL, he asked that his location not be disclosed.
“I had to flee home on 27 June at 1 o’clock at night. I left my house and went to another street where a taxi was waiting for me. I ordered it in advance. I took it and left. But I had to avoid police cordons around Qarshi city and Qashqadaryo region. I walked around them like a criminal. Otherwise, it would have been very easy for them to stop me,” Qorayev said.
Qorayev, who also worked for RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service in 1998-2000, was arrested on 4 June and sentenced to a 10-day prison term on charges of “hooliganism."
He was detained once again on 15 June, one day after his release. He was held in detention for several hours and then released, but without the return of his passport, leaving him unable to travel.
Qorayev's documents were returned after Uzbek authorities faced pressure from foreign governments, including that of the United States, as well as from human rights groups and media organizations.
But Qorayev says even then, Uzbek police tried to charge him with yet another crime.
“I’ve been outside Uzbekistan since 27 June. I’ve been in several former Soviet states. The reason I found myself in this situation is that the harassment against me in Uzbekistan became very severe. The harassment still continues,” Qorayev says.
Qorayev says family members have warned him that police are still trying to trace his whereabouts.
“I received information from my relatives that on 12 July, a man named Ikramov and two other officers of the Qashqadaryo regional prosecutor’s office summoned a woman, Mahira Yoriyeva, showed her my picture, and said I was a Wahabbist and asked her to file a suit against me and help them to charge me with a crime. In exchange, they promised her an apartment or a car. According to my information, she said she didn’t know me and left,” Qoraev says.
Qorayev says Yoriyeva knew him from reports he had done about her abusive marriage. She felt grateful and therefore refused to cooperate with the police. But, Qorayev added, "it shouldn’t be difficult for police to find another person who will be cooperative."
Qorayev says he wants to go back to his home town of Qarshi to help his family members flee Uzbekistan as well.
He asked the U.S. government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for assistance. American officials and the UNHCR said they could not guarantee his security in Uzbekistan if he returns there.
An official at the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity also said that he would not recommend that Qorayev go back to Uzbekistan.
Bobojonov, a Tashkent-based correspondent with IWPR, says Qorayev is just one of many journalists who have faced heightened intimidation and harassment since the Andijon uprising last May. He tells RFE/RL that IWPR has had to suspend its activities because of constant pressure from Uzbek authorities.
“Correspondents from our institute have been under constant pressure from the beginning [of IWPR's work in Uzbekistan]. We have covered this on our Internet site extensively. Lately, the harrassment increased a lot, particularly after the Andijon events. It was a reason why the institute decided to suspend its activity in the region for the time being. But there is some contradiction in this decision. Why does the institute suspend its activity at a time when it is so important to tell the truth and convey it to the people?” Bobojonov says.
Bobojonov, who has also worked for the Uzbek services of RFE/RL and the BBC, says IWPR's Internet site (http://www.uznews.net) became very popoular during the Andijon crisis but was also shut down because of constant intervention by Uzbek authorities.
“I am often asked why we closed our site, uznews.net, now, at this important period. People usually ask: 'Why did you close it when ferghana.ru and other sites are still operating?” I usually say that we didn’t want to shut it down. But there is an important difference between our site and those like ferghana.ru. The latter is administered from outside Uzbekistan, while we were based and operating in Uzbekistan. We depended on Uzbek [Internet service] providers.”
Bobojonov says he and his colleagues plan to resume the internet site from outside Uzbekistan. However, both he and Qorayev say they are very pessimistic about the future of independent media in Uzbekistan.