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3/17/03 - UZBEKISTAN AND PRESS FREEDOM - 2003-03-18

Recent incidents of Uzbekistan government harassment of journalists cast doubt on the government’s respect for freedom of the press.

On March 7th, Yusuf Rasulov [YOU-suff rah-SOO-loff], a correspondent for the Voice of America, and Khusniddin Qutbiddinov [KHOOS-nid-din khoot-bid-DIN-off], a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, were beaten by thugs apparently acting at the behest of Uzbekistan police. The journalists were reporting on a demonstration by some forty women at a market in Tashkent. The women were protesting the detention and torture of their sons and husbands by Uzbekistan authorities.

The protest was broken up by the police and many of the women were detained. The correspondents asked the police where the women were taken and why some officers had blood on their hands. The response came quickly. While uniformed police looked on, the V-O-A and R-F-E/R-L journalists were beaten by a gang of hoodlums. The reporters’ tape recorders were taken from them.

The United States is deeply concerned at the harassment, attempted intimidation, and, in some cases, imprisonment of journalists over the past several months in Uzbekistan. For example, Olim Toshev [OH-lim TAH-sheff], was arrested in early February and released shortly thereafter on bail. He is editor of a newspaper in Karshi [KAHR-shee] and has also reported for foreign radio. He is charged with assaulting a neighbor, a charge he denies. The real reason for his arrest may have been his reporting on police corruption and illegal practices.

The U.S. is pleased to see that the lifting of prior censorship by the Uzbekistan government last year has led to increased press activity. The U.S. hopes to see continuing development toward a free press. A secure and democratic society requires that citizens, including journalists, have the freedom to express their views without fear of official harassment or politically motivated prosecution. The U.S. urges Uzbekistan authorities to respect freedom of the press and the rights of independent journalists, investigate abuses by local authorities, and demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law.