Weekly news wrap

Continuing persecution of Protestants in Uzbekistan was reported on Tuesday by Forum 18 News Service, an agency monitoring religious freedom in former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. Confiscation and destruction of religious literature and routine harassment of Pentecostalists by the Uzbek government are other concerns.

Two missing local journalists working for RFE/RL from Turkmenistan, whose whereabouts were unknown, have been in detention for eight days, according to the international broadcaster.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Harasziti, told RFE/RL on Wednesday that the two correspondents had been given 15-day prison sentences for “unruly behaviour”.

The two journalists, Meret Khommadov and Jumadurdy Ovezov, were arrested while attending a meeting of elderly people on 7 March, in the Vekilbazar region of Mary province, in southeast Turkmenistan. Many elderly in the country were stripped of their state pensions late last year and some have been meeting to protest against the controversial government move.

According to testimonies of people present, Khommadov and Ovezov behaved in an unruly way, disrupting the meeting, shouting at officials and cursing elderly people, RFE/RL reported Harasziti as saying. The two journalists have been denied access to their families, RFE/RL reported.

Deutsche Welle’s Uzbekistan correspondent Obid Shabanov has been stripped of accreditation with the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, the ministry's press service said in a statement on Thursday.

The move came after Deutsche Welle reported that passengers on a bus bound for Russia had frozen to death on the Ustyurt plateau in northern Uzbekistan in February. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry denied the report.

The Uzbek cabinet approved new regulations on 24 February, giving the foreign ministry discretion to issue formal warnings to foreign correspondents, revoke accreditation and visas, and to expel them.

The new restrictions also prohibit Uzbek citizens from working for foreign media without the ministry’s accreditation, and from “interfering in the internal affairs of the country”, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported.

The BBC and the US government-funded RFE/RL closed their offices in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, last year after harassment and problems over accreditation.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Tajikistan have agreed on a three-year Poverty Reduction Program, RFE/RL reported on Thursday.

The programme, aimed at working on macroeconomic and credit policies, strengthening the taxation system and on reforming the energy sector, will begin in coming months. Tajikistan’s macroeconomic performance between 2003 and 2005 exceeded expectations according to the IMF, RFE/RL reported.

The amount of funding for the programme is not yet clear, but the head of the IMF mission to Tajikistan, Carlos Pinerua, forecast US $120 million, according to RFE/RL.

According to a World Bank Country office press release on 17 March, the international financial institution will stop making new loans to Uzbekistan.

The suspension of new lending comes after concerns that resources are increasingly constrained and should be used in countries where the bank can be confident that financed programmes will have the greatest impact, the press release said.