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Uzbekistan: Rights Group Criticizes OSCE Press Forum

Washington, 4 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A prominent human rights organization has criticized an international forum on press freedom set to open today in Uzbekistan for failing to include independent non-governmental groups.

The human rights organization charged that the forum gives "tacit approval to strict government control of the media and fierce repression of the right to free speech" in Uzbekistan.

A letter issued today by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki criticized the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its human rights arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The OSCE group is sponsoring a forum to which only Uzbekistan government officials are invited to speak.

The Helsinki group also criticized the meeting for failing to put the "crucial issue of overt state censorship on the agenda."

Contacted by RFE/RL, the OSCE group had no immediate response to the criticism.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch charges that in Uzbekistan, censors control newspapers, television and radio,. It also charges that "police and security services harass, intimidate, fire, and sometimes beat journalists."

Human Rights Watch contends that censorship and political repression are so much a way of life for reporters "that most of the time they censor their own questions before they ask them."

Human Rights Watch director Holly Carter says that by sponsoring a free press forum in Uzbekistan, the OSCE is "giving the international seal of approval to the stifling of free expression in the media in Uzbekistan."