Despite the president's assurances to Western countries about press freedom, independent media were still not allowed.

The head of the State Secrets Protection Agency, Erkin Kamilov, resigned on 7 May 2002 and six days later, for the first time, the country's newspapers appeared without being censored beforehand. This seemed to be an abolition of censorship, soon after World Press Freedom Day (3 May), which was widely publicised in the country's media.

President Islam Karimov even admitted at a televised joint press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 10 May that Uzbekistan was "far from international standards" of press freedom.

But a few days later, the head of the State Press Committee, Rustam Shagulyamov, warned the publishers of six government newspapers that they would be held entirely responsible for what they published. He said the State Secrets Protection Agency would continue to monitor the content of newspapers.

The government has a monopoly of all printing and distribution facilities and controls the issue of publishing licences. Independent news is frequently cracked down on and no mention is allowed of political opposition, the existence of crime or corruption or anything to do with civil liberties, individual rights and minorities. The state imprisons or harasses journalists who break these rules.

Four journalists imprisoned

Jusuf Ruzimuradov, editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, was jailed for eight years and one of his journalists, Mohammed Bekjanov, for 15 years on 18 August 1999 for wanting to overthrow the government, belonging to an illegal organisation and insulting the president in print, which is punishable under article 158.3 of the criminal code. Threats of rape of family members, torture and psychological pressure were used to extract confessions from Ruzimuradov.

Majid Abduraimov, of the weekly Yangi Asr, who criticised government and legal officials, was arrested on 10 March 2001 and jailed on 1 August for 13 years for corruption.

Shadi Mardiev, a radio journalist and legal affairs expert, was freed on 4 January 2002 after five years in prison and a year before completing his sentence, which had been commuted under a presidential amnesty on 22 August 2001 for 25,000 prisoners to mark the 10th anniversary of independence.

He had been arrested in November 1997 and jailed for 11 years by the Tashkent appeals court on 3 August 1998 for "attempted extortion" and alleged defamation after disclosing on 19 June 1997 embezzlement by the deputy prosecutor in Samarkand, Talat Abdukhalidha, who accused him of trying to extort money from him in exchange for not revealing the story.

Mardiev was being held in prison in Kizil-tepa, in the Navoi region, west of Samarkand, and his health is said to have seriously deteriorated. On 19 January 1999, President Karimov turned down his request for release even those he had suffered two strokes and a heart attack. His sentence was cut in half however. Mardiev has been a journalist since 1964 and worked for the state-run radio station in Samarkand, where he presented a programme called "The law and us," which was critical of the authorities.

Pressure and obstruction

The government cracked down in July 2002 on the weekly Mohiyat for publishing an article by independent journalist Karim Bakhriev about press freedom headed "I'll be killed if I speak, I'll die if I don't." Presidential adviser Akhmadzhon Meliboyev summoned editor Abdukayum Yuldashev, deputy editor Alisher Nazar and the paper's founder, Zafar Roziev, and made them sign a promise not to print any more articles of this kind.

Sobirjon Ergashev, correspondent of the newspaper Inson va Qonun in Toy-tepa, near Tashkent, appeared in a local court on 26 July for alleged extortion after writing articles exposing embezzlement by local authorities in charge of distributing farmland. The exposed authorities accused him of extorting 500,000 soms (400 euros) from several farmers.

Human rights activist Elena Urlayeva, who used to work for the government TV station's news programme "Akhborot," was released on 31 December after being held four months in a Tashkent mental hospital. She had denounced


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