Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Uzbekistan
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Uzbekistan, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566c228.html [accessed 28 July 2015]|
Increased international aid and the presence of U.S. troops using Uzbekistan as a base for the "war on terror" have focused new international attention on the country, forcing President Islam Karimov to pay lip service to press freedom. "Today, there are no boundaries to the flow of information, and any attempts to restrict freedom of speech are absolutely pointless and useless," Karimov told journalists at a June 27 celebration of Uzbekistan's Press Day.
With much fanfare, Karimov's government ended prior censorship of newspapers in May 2002, yet the change was almost entirely undermined when the government subsequently pressured editors to censor articles themselves. Some frightened editors even hired the state's former censors to minimize the risk of publishing anything that might be deemed offensive.
In addition, the country's highly centralized government and vigilant security service, along with the police, courts, prosecutors, inspectors, and other state agencies – all of which remain firmly under Karimov's control – engender widespread fear and self-censorship among journalists, who rarely question or debate government policy.
Those who do try to push government limits on censorship receive swift punishment. Uzbekistan remains the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia, with five in prison at year's end. In August, Ruslan Sharipov, former head of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan (UIJU), was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail on spurious charges of sodomy, managing prostitutes, and having sexual relations with minors. Authorities have harassed Sharipov for several years because of critical articles he contributed to the Russian news agency Prima and protest letters he wrote to the president for the UIJU describing police abuses and press freedom violations.
Gayrat Mehliboyev, a freelance journalist who wrote occasionally for the Tashkent newspaper Hurriyyat, was sentenced to seven years in prison in February for writing a political commentary about Islam and allegedly sympathizing with a banned Islamic opposition party. Madzhid Abduraimov, a correspondent with the national weekly Yangi Asr, was sentenced to 13 years in August 2001 for writing about corruption and remained jailed at year's end. Mukhammad Bekdzhanov, editor of Erk, a newspaper published by the banned opposition Erk party; and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, an Erk employee, were sentenced to 14 years and 15 years in prison, respectively, in August 1999 for distributing Erk and criticizing the government.
In May, the government fired the political editor of Uzbek state television after the station broadcast embarrassing footage of audience members sleeping during a speech Karimov delivered at a conference in the capital, Tashkent. And in March, administration officials dismissed the editor of Hurriyat for publishing articles about child poverty and mismanagement in the cotton industry, The Associated Press reported.
State-run and state-funded media dominate the airwaves and newsstands, churning out dreary reports about cotton harvests, recent government decrees, and Karimov's daily meetings. Many citizens prefer to get their news through gossip at the bazaar, the Internet, Russian television, and international radio broadcasts from the BBC and the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America.
The government makes every effort to block these alternative sources of news by intimidating stringers for foreign media outlets, denying international radio broadcasters access to local frequencies, and blocking access to religious, opposition, human rights, and news Web sites.
In January, the government's monopoly Internet service provider, UzPAK, blocked several Russia-based news Web sites after they posted articles by an anonymous analyst about government corruption in Karimov's inner circle. In February, police arrested freelance journalist Oleg Sarapulov as he left an Internet café in Tashkent and detained him for two days because he had printed several articles from centralasia.ru, a Russia-based news Web site that focuses on Central Asia.
Senior government officials often make threatening phone calls to editors outlining political guidelines and editorial instructions for news coverage. Journalists refer to these calls as telefonaya pravo, or "law of the telephone." In March, meanwhile, Foreign Minster Sodyk Safaev summoned leading editors to his office to request that they provide pro-U.S. coverage of the war in Iraq, according to the German government-funded broadcasting agency Deutsche Welle. In December, according to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Cabinet issued a decree forcing media outlets to re-register with authorities and subjecting newsletters published by nongovernmental human rights organizations to the same media regulations as newspapers.
The country's politicized and secretive Interagency Coordination Committee, which issues licenses for broadcast outlets, only gives local and regional broadcasting licenses to pro-government businesspeople and organizations that concentrate on entertainment programming.
2003 Documented Cases – Uzbekistan
MARCH 7, 2003
Khusnutddin Kutbiddinov, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)
Yusuf Rasulov, Voice of America
Kutbiddinov, of the U.S. governmentfunded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Rasulov, with the U.S. governmentfunded Voice of America, were attacked while trying to cover an antigovernment protest in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent. The journalists had gone to the Chorsu Bazaar in the center of Tashkent to report on a group of about 40 women protesting the detention and torture of their sons and husbands on charges of religious extremism.
The journalists arrived at the bazaar after the police had dispersed the demonstrators and interviewed several women who had evaded arrest. They also briefly spoke to some police officers at the scene. As Kutbiddinov and Rasulov were leaving the area, a group of men attacked them.
"Around 20 men approached us and started hitting us," Kutbiddinov told Agence France_Presse. "They pushed us to the ground and kicked us." The men also stole the reporters' bags, which contained the taped interviews with the women. Despite pleas from the journalists for help, a group of police officers watched the attack and did nothing.
MAY 26, 2003
Updated: October 27, 2004
Ruslan Sharipov, Prima and the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan
Sharipov, an independent journalist and human rights activist who was persecuted and imprisoned by Uzbek authorities, fled from detention in June 2004 and resettled in the United States in October 2004 after gaining political refugee status.
In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sharipov said he was excited to "taste freedom again" and thanked the numerous press and human rights organizations that supported him. Sharipov said he arrived in the United States on October 21 after spending four months in exile in Moscow. He traveled the next day to California, where he was reunited with his mother and brother.
The Uzbek police and security service harassed Sharipov for several years because of his articles on police abuses and press freedom violations, which were written for the Russian news agency Prima and the Web site of the Union of Independent Journalists in Uzbekistan. Many of Sharipov's articles were published in English, making them accessible to an international audience.
Uzbek authorities stepped up their attacks in 2003, when Sharipov was convicted on criminal charges of sodomy, having sex with minors, and managing prostitutes. Sharipov, who is openly gay, denied the accusations and said that authorities tortured him to get a confession. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, a term that was later reduced to three years.
On March 13, 2004, Sharipov was moved from Tavaksay Prison in Tashkent Region to serve the remainder of his term under house arrest near a low-security prison in the Kibray District, also in Tashkent Region. About the same time, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry promised to review Sharipov's case and suggested he could be released unconditionally the next month.
Instead, the Hamza District Court in Tashkent ruled in June that Sharipov had to serve the remainder of his sentence in Bukhara, a city 370 miles southwest of the capital, Tashkent, according to press reports. Surat Ikhramov, a member of Sharipov's defense team, said he was not informed of the hearing and called the decision an official effort to isolate Sharipov.
Sharipov was to be transferred to Bukhara on June 25, but he fled Uzbekistan for Moscow, where he stayed while U.S. officials processed his application for refugee status.