UZBEKISTAN: Pressure on international NGOs and independent media grows
Tashkent, 5 July 2005 (IRIN) - Following a year-long campaign to limit the activities of Western NGOs, Uzbek authorities have brought criminal charges against local staff of the Internews Network, a US based non-profit media organisation, the organisation said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“On Monday the Uzbek government formally charged local Internews Network staff with conspiracy to engage in productions of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses,” the statement said. “Two local women staff, a former Internews director and an accountant, are charged with violating Article 190(2) b of the Uzbek criminal code, a crime punishable by up to six months in prison,” the statement read.
Pressure on international organisations working to support local democracy, free speech and free press initiatives have escalated following popular uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine and in March, in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Some of these rebellions have toppled long-standing Soviet era leaders in these post-communist republics.
Internews is the latest Western organisation to have come under pressure recently in Uzbekistan. Last year Uzbek authorities expelled the Open Society Institute, a project of the US billionaire George Soros, who has been working to foster democracy in the former Soviet Union. The Open Society Institute had been particularly active in the education and media sectors in Uzbekistan.
“The investigations into alleged illegal activities by Internews have been riddled with procedural violations,” the statement said.
"We have been under investigation almost for a year and the charges have no serious basis,” Kholida Anorboeva, a former Internews director, told IRIN. “Now we are waiting for the trial, I am sure it would be a show trial.”
Another journalist familiar with the case, spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity.
“Of course this case is related to the colour revolutions (in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan), eventually they want to deregister Internews," the journalist said.
Many of the most influential media professionals in Uzbekistan have been trained by Internews. The media NGO’s projects in the country have been supported by USAID, the European Union (EU) and the US State Department.
“In pursuing its case against Internews, the Ministry of Justice has demanded that Internews cease educating lawyers involved in the field of mass media, close down the activities of its Media Resource Center for the Fergana Valley in the city of Namangan, stop publishing the periodicals Vestnik TV [TV News] and Erkin Soz [Freedom of Speech], and end production of two popular TV news programmes,” the ministry statement said.
There have been other attacks on the independent media in recent weeks. Journalists and local reporters working for foreign media have come under increased pressure and have been subject to strong criticism following the recent violence in the eastern city of Andijan, as Uzbekistan faced repeated demands for an independent international investigation into the mass killings there on 13 May.
Many individuals have been continually vilified on national radio and TV, accused of being traitors, subversives and criminals.
A journalist with US-funded Radio Liberty, Lobar Kaynarova, in her third month of pregnancy, was severely beaten by two women and a man near her home in Syrdarya region on 1 July.
“We have serious reasons to say that the attack was directly related to her professional activity as her recordings were stolen and she had been earlier warned to ‘stay away from politics,’” Radio Liberty’s Tashkent office said.
Western radio stations broadcasting to Uzbekistan and the region in the Uzbek language are virtually the only critical media in this Central Asian country due to strict state control of national and local broadcast and print media.
IRIN learnt on Tuesday that Uzbek authorities opened a criminal case against Yusuf Rasulov, a journalists working for the media project of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Rasulov, who also heads an unregistered local media campaign group, the Association for the Protection of Journalist's Rights and Freedoms, was charged with insulting the head of the state, President Islam Karimov.
Other journalists who have suffered in the recent clampdown include IWPR reporter Tulkin Karaev, who served a 10-day jail term in southern Kashkadarya, after being found guilty of hooliganism. Radio Liberty’s reporter Gofur Yuldoshev was detained briefly for interviewing opposition members in Andijan and IWPR journalist and rights activist Ulugbek Haydarov, who works in the central Jizzakh region, was attacked for the second time in two months which resulted in serious injuries, according to local rights groups.