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The Role of Journalists in Repressive Societies

(Washington, DC--November 23, 2005) An Uzbek journalist, now in exile, urged her colleagues to be an independent voice for the people of Uzbekistan. Galima Bukharbayeva, who is a recipient of the 2005 International Press Freedom Award from the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said that "nothing will change in society, if journalists won't report."

In describing conditions in Uzbekistan, Bukharbayeva said, "independent journalism can barely exist [today]. Many journalists have had to leave." Since the violence in Andijon in May, according to Bukharbayeva, "journalists [have been] beaten, sources have disappeared, and human rights activists from the Ferghana Valley have been arrested." Bukharbayeva called the events in Andijon "a massacre" and "a crime by the government of such enormity." The government is now trying "to silence the whole city" through repression, she said, yet the "government fears the few journalists" who recorded the events.

Bukharbayeva said the trial of the 23 businessmen in Andijon for religious extremism, which appears to have triggered the civil unrest and government crackdown, was not an unusual occurrence in Uzbekistan. "Since 1999, in any city court in the country, there are groups of people on trial for religious extremism," she said. Her own interviews with residents in Andijon revealed that people wanted social and economic justice. "The government speculates on religious extremism, rather than dealing with real problems," she said, "Without torture, no one will confess to religious extremism. Torture is the tool. The government needs that tool."

Bukharbayeva worked for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) as that organization's Tashkent-based Uzbekistan correspondent until she was forced to flee after the armed clashes in Andijon. Since her exile, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General has brought criminal charges against Bukharbayeva, because she had continued to work in Uzbekistan without the official accreditation that she lost in 2003.