Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry has refused to prolong the accreditation of an independent Polish journalist who earlier this year accused one of the ministry's officers of sexual harassment and of pressuring her to write positive articles about the Central Asian nation in exchange for remaining accredited.
Ministry spokesman Yusuf Qobuljonov wrote on Telegram on June 2 that the decision not to extend the accreditation for Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, a correspondent for Al-Jazeera, was made due to "violations of legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan."
The statement did not specify which laws the journalist violated or how.
Pikulicka-Wilczewska responded on Twitter by saying the ministry's "claim that I humiliated the honor and dignity of citizens, promoted ethnic and religious enmity & interfered in the internal affairs of the country" was not true and an attempt at silencing her.
According to the journalist, the ministry also accused her of violating the law "on the protection of children from information that is harmful to their health."
"People who have worked with [me] and followed me over the past three years know that this is an attempt to silence me and a sign that there is little change in the country. They also know that this will not stop me from calling out injustice and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan," Pikulicka-Wilczewska tweeted, reiterating that the move comes after her complaints about sexual harassment by a ministry employee who also pressured her to write positive articles about the Central Asian country.
In early February, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry officially apologized to Pikulicka-Wilczewska, who also worked for The Guardian and Eurasianet, saying that the employee in question had been fired.
Pikulicka-Wilczewska says her accreditation was then prolonged by three months.
British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Tim Torlot called the decision "disappointing."
"Media freedom means supporting & defending journalists, even if what they write is critical or controversial. Journalists should be protected, not pressured,"Torlot tweeted.
The Paris-based media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders denounced the Uzbek Foreign Ministry’s decision as an attempt to restrict press freedom, and called on the country's authorities to “let [the journalist] work.”
Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter that the Uzbek Foreign Ministry's decision "follows a wave of criminal cases brought against critical bloggers and journalists."
Last week, three Uzbek reporters at the website Effect.uz went on trial in the southern region of Qashqadaryo on charges of impeding an official from carrying out their work, interfering into an ongoing investigation and court procedures, libel, and insulting a public official.
The trial's opening session on May 27 lasted only 30 minutes. The journalists were asked by the judge if they were familiar with the indictment against them, which they said they weren’t. The trial was then adjourned for several days.
Effect.uz was registered in 2019 and focuses mainly on high-profile trials that lack transparency and coverage. One of the trials was the case of blogger Otabek Sattoriy, who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison last month.
In March, another blogger and rights activist, Miraziz Bazarov, was severely beaten by unknown individuals, reportedly over his views supporting the rights of the LGBT community.
Instead of seeking to investigate and prosecute Bazarov’s attackers, the authorities have instead pursued several lines of investigation against the blogger himself.
These and other cases have called into question President Shavkat Mirziyoev's democratization reforms he announced after he took over following the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov, in 2016.