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Correspondent Detained In Uzbekistan

Prague, 12 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian correspondent for the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation independent think tank and the Forum 18 nongovernmental group has been detained by authorities in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.

Igor Rotar, who covers regional developments for both organizations, was apprehended yesterday at the airport in Tashkent and has been held incommunicado since then. Rotar was detained as he was arriving from Bishkek, the capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he lives.

Press releases issued yesterday by the Jamestown Foundation and Norway-based Forum 18 quoted one observer, who saw Rotar from a distance some two hours after his detention, as saying the journalist looked “physically unhurt, but shaken and disturbed.”

A subsequent Forum 18 statement, issued today, said that Rotar -- who had come to Uzbekistan on a reporting trip -- reportedly spent the night in the transit lounge of the Tashkent airport, and that Uzbek authorities initially encouraged him to buy a ticket out of the country.

John Kinahan, assistant editor of Forum 18 news service in London, told RFE/RL that he believes the journalist, who reports on religious freedom and human rights issues, was detained for political reasons.

“We have it on very good authority that the detention was ordered for political reasons at the highest levels, and that it was the National Security Service -- the [Uzbek] secret police -- that ordered the Immigration Service and the border guards to do this,” Kinahan said.

RFE/RL’s Tashkent bureau reported that both the National Security Service and the Russian Embassy have said they are not aware of Rotar’s detention.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it is following the case.

In New York, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have both expressed deep concern at what they say is yet another example of Uzbekistan’s campaign of harassment and intimidation against the independent media.

Uzbek authorities have long been cracking down on nongovernmental media outlets. But the situation significantly worsened after the bloody events in the eastern city of Andijon in May.

Just last week, a Tashkent court handed down suspended jail sentences on two staff members of Internews Network, a U.S.-based media-training organization, on charges of illegally producing television programming and meddling in Uzbek politics.

Prosecutors are now demanding that the local offices of Internews be closed down.

Rotar, who had lived some time in Tashkent before moving to Bishkek, has been reporting on religious issues for many years. His latest report for Forum 18, dated 10 August, covered the trial of three members of Uzbekistan’s small Jehovah’s Witnesses community.

Kinahan of Forum 18 said he doesn’t know what may have prompted Uzbek authorities to order the journalist’s detention.

“The only thing one can really conclude is that the Uzbek authorities are very unhappy about reporting on the religious freedom situation in Uzbekistan," Kinahan said. "We have no firm indication as to whether there was any particular article, or comment, which may have angered the [Uzbek authorities]. Beyond a generalizing that [they] have been certainly cracking down on the independent media outlets and that they appear to be unhappy about accurate and objective religious freedom reporting, I can’t say anything more precise.”

Forum 18 is calling on Uzbek authorities to release its correspondent immediately and allow him to resume his journalistic activities in the country if he so wishes.

(RFE/RL's Tajik Service/Uzbek Service)

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