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Protesting Uzbek Journalists Say Press Conference Thwarted

Journalists Saodat Omonova and Malohat Eshonqulova
TASHKENT -- Two Uzbek journalists on hunger strike to protest media censorship claim that authorities have thwarted their planned press conference, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Saodat Omonova and Malohat Eshonqulova told RFE/RL that none of the representatives of foreign embassies, international organizations, and human rights organizations invited to their press conference at 10:30 a.m. on July 7 showed up.

Eshonqulova said she believes the embassies did not receive the invitations they sent, while the rights activists and journalists were prevented from coming.

Omonova told RFE/RL that at 10 a.m. the electricity to their house was cut off and up to 20 cars surrounded their home. She said only Surat Ikramov, the head of the Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan group, showed up.

Omonova said Zhalol Botiraliev and Dilbar Qosimova, both of them trade union representatives from the Yoshlar (Youth) state TV channel where the two women used to work, also came and that Qosimova started shouting accusations at them.

Omonova said her husband and daughter noticed their home was under surveillance for several days by men in parked cars, and on July 7 by people in police uniform and civilian clothes.

Svetlana Ortiqova, who heads the Uzbek parliament's legislative and judiciary reform committee, told RFE/RL she did not receive any news about the two journalists and asked RFE/RL to contact her later.

Omonova and Eshonqulova were detained in Tashkent on June 27, which is Media Workers' Day in Uzbekistan, when they tried to start a hunger strike outside President Islam Karimov's residence.

They were arrested and a Tashkent district court fined them 2.94 million soms (about $1,500) for holding an unauthorized protest.

The two women were seeking a meeting with Karimov to discuss media censorship at Yoshlar (Youth). They were both dismissed from the station in December, three days after staging a protest on Tashkent's main square against media censorship.

They filed a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the management of Yoshlar, but on May 31 a district court ruled in favor of the TV station, saying the women's dismissal was legal. They have appealed that verdict.

Eshonqulova told RFE/RL that since May 2 they have sent 56 letters to Karimov detailing examples of censorship at Yoshlar and requesting a meeting with him.

She said that at their protest on June 27, she and Omonova held up placards reading "Dear Islam Karimov, please grant us an audience," and "We declare a hunger strike." Today is the 12th day of their hunger strike.