"The European Union must not close its eyes to the harsh realities that journalists face in Uzbekistan."
That's the conclusion drawn by the world's top media and rights watchdogs in a joint statement issued in the wake of last week's "media freedom" seminar in Tashkent and ahead of an EU foreign ministers' meeting on October 13, at which the EU is expected to reconsider its sanctions against Uzbekistan.
Visa bans and an arms embargo were imposed against Tashkent by the EU following the bloody government crackdown against antigovernment protesters in Andijon in May 2005.
"Our organizations, which took part in the seminar, can attest firsthand that nothing new was heard from the representatives of the government and the state-controlled media who were present," the statement says. "There was no hint of acknowledgement from the Uzbek side that the country's media are neither free nor independent, that journalists and others are regularly imprisoned for expressing their opinions, that access to critical external Internet sites is blocked, and that foreign journalists are not allowed accreditation to cover the country from within."
Indeed, foreign media and independent Uzbek journalists were not permitted to cover the "media freedom" seminar.
The statement is asking the EU to call on the Uzbek government to adhere to freedom-of-expression norms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The statement is signed by Amnesty International, Article 19, Le Federation Internationale Des Droits de l'Homme, Human Rights Watch, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, International Crisis Group, and the Open Society Institute.