TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry has taken the unusual step of promising to investigate the temporary detainment of two independent journalists while they were covering the aftermath of a dam burst that forced tens of thousands of people from their homes in the Sirdaryo region and neighboring Kazakhstan.
The ministry said on Telegram that it will "assess the legality" of the actions taken by officers in holding the reporters on May 3.
"The Interior Ministry is always open to media outlets and does not meddle in their operations," the ministry statement said.
The statement came less than two hours after the independent online news organization Human.uz wrote on Telegram that police detained its reporter, Mavjuda Mirzaeva, and her cameraman while they were interviewing residents who were being temporarily housed at a college in the regional capital, Guliston, because of the accident.
In the video, posted by Human.uz, law enforcement officers, some of whom are in plainclothes, force the cameraman, whose name was not disclosed, into a minibus, while Mirzaeva films the situation and demands an explanation from an officer for the arrest.
The officer finally says, "You refused to follow lawful demands," but does not respond to Mirzaeva's request to clarify which "lawful demands" she and her cameraman refused to follow.
The officer then instructs one of his colleagues inside the vehicle to "delete all their video records after looking through them."
Until recently, the Interior Ministry investigating such an incident would have been seen as unthinkable.
Until 2016, Uzbekistan was under the iron fist of President Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian state from before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 until his death in 2016.
Since President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over, many imprisoned political opposition figures and journalists, some of whom were held for almost 20 years, have been released, while websites that were censored for years have become accessible.
Still, the watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in its assessment of press freedom in Uzbekistan that "the road is still long" for the country "to fully restore press freedom without political pluralism and without justice for the dictatorship's crimes."