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President Shavkat Mirziyoev has vowed reforms in Uzbekistan, but journalist groups continue to express concerns about press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Uzbekistan to end its harassment of bloggers covering social and religious issues and to release at least four people reportedly arrested for their writings on religious matters.

In urging action, CPJ on September 6 cited the cases of Adham Olimov, Ziyodulla Kabirov, Otabek Usmanov, and Khurshidbek Muhammadroziqov, who were reportedly arrested in various cities between August 28 and September 2.

"Uzbekistan's roundup of bloggers signals that the country is not serious about improving the environment for press freedom," said Gulnoza Said, the New York-based watchdog’s research associate for Europe and Central Asia.

"Authorities should release the detained bloggers and ensure that journalists are allowed to comment freely on issues important to Uzbek society," she added.

Under the rule of the late President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan maintained a tight rein over Islam and Muslims were often prosecuted for practicing their religion outside state-controlled mosques, CPJ said.

His successor Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power in 2016, has sought to open up Central Asia's most populous country and move away from Karimov's oppressive policies.

While praising many of the efforts, rights groups have continued to express concerns about free speech, censorship, and prosecutions of journalist in the country.

In its statement, CPJ said that the detained bloggers write on social and religious matters, often pressing for a greater role for Islam in society and mainly on Facebook, “given limitations on the independent press in Uzbekistan.”

The watchdog said the Prosecutor-General's Office did not respond to its telephone requests for information on the arrests.

It quoted news media as saying that Olimov, publishing under the name Musannif Adham; Kabirov, a blogger and religious scholar known as Ziyovuddin Rahim; and Usmanov, who writes for a local religious website, had been arrested, fined, and sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 days.

Much of their recent writing had focused on Islamic issues, including expressing opposition to a ban on the sale of the hijab in the country.

CPJ also said that police detained Muhammadroziqov in the eastern city of Kokand.

The group quoted supporters as saying that the whereabouts of Muhammadroziqov, who has been critical of the government's transition to the Latin alphabet and educational reforms, were unknown.

The watchdog said it was investigating the cases of other bloggers that local rights groups say have been detained and were either still being held or released after administrative arrest.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service

Moldovan and international human rights organizations have criticized a decision by the country’s authorities to detain and expel seven Turkish citizens.

"The expulsion of these people to Turkey poses an imminent danger to their life and security and also the risk of not receiving a fair trial," Moldova’s Center for Legal Resources of Moldova and the Promo-LEX human rights group wrote in a joint statement on September 6.

Moldova's state security service, the SIS, announced it had expelled seven foreign nationals because they allegedly posed a "risk to national security," without mentioning their nationality.

The detainees were staff members of a Turkish high school in Chisinau’s Durlesti neighborhood that is linked to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

Gulen, who lives in the United States, rejects the claim.

A teacher who was also detained but later released told reporters, "We do not know exactly what is happening, but we think that this is an order from Turkey."

The Turkish authorities have not immediately commented on the case.

Nicolae Esanu, a secretary of state at the Justice Ministry, said the consequences of this action were a cause for concern.

"I hope there are solid documents in the SIS dossiers justifying the expulsion of the Turkish citizens because ... we can only avoid a conviction from the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] if those expelled do not sue us," he wrote on Facebook.

The London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the seven detainees had requested asylum in Moldova, claiming they would face persecution in their homeland.

The Moldovan authorities "didn’t just violate these individuals' rights once by deporting them -- they put them on a fast-track to further human rights violations such as an unfair trial," Marie Struthers, Amnesty's director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

Struthers said the latest arrests in Moldova "follow the pattern of political reprisals against Turkish nationals living abroad by the increasingly repressive government" of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She said that six Turkish nationals, also school employees, were "abducted and unlawfully returned to Turkey" in March.

Amnesty International said it had received information indicating there may be further deportations of Turkish nationals to Turkey in the coming hours.

With reporting by Reuters and Balkan Insight

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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