Authorities in Uzbekistan have ordered the closing of Winrock International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization working in sixty-five countries. Uzbek authorities accused the NGO of supporting the development of women's NGOs, publishing without a license, and funding the printing of a book with "unapproved religious content."
John Baxter, head of Winrock International's operations in Uzbekistan, says his organization is working on water resources and agricultural development. "We have not published anything related to religion and all our publications were agreed with the agricultural ministry," he says.
Uzbekistan has forced many Western NGOs to close in recent months. These include the human rights monitoring group Freedom House, the Urban Institute, and the Uzbek branch of the American Council for Collaboration in Education and Language.
Since August 2005, more than two hundred domestic NGOs have also been closed by the government of Uzbekistan. Both foreign and domestic NGOs have been subject to a variety of vague and arbitrary charges including "distributing tendentious and biased information."
According to the U.S. State Department's latest human rights report, international NGOs are required to register with the Uzbek ministry of justice. All local NGOs are required to register with a government-controlled association whose purpose, says the report, is "to control all funding and NGO activities." Uzbek authorities have denied registration to such organizations as the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Mazlum, and Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture.
NGO members risk harassment or detention by police. Tolib Yoqubov, head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan has been missing since July. His daughter Nargiza says she received a call from her father telling her that police had arrived to detain him. Since then, she said, the family has had "no information about his whereabouts."
The right of non-governmental organizations to operate without interference by government authorities is a fundamental human right. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States "continues to hope that the government of Uzbekistan will turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of reform."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.