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Uzbek Government Continues Campaign Against NGOs

(Washington, DC--June 9, 2006) The head of the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia told a RFE/RL audience yesterday that the government of Uzbekistan is continuing its campaign to shut down local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in addition to local offices of Western aid providers. Andrew Wilson, President of Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia, which is based in Almaty, Kazakhstan said the Uzbek Ministry of Justice has "shut down hundreds of local NGOs since August 2005" and that the effort continues across the country "city by city."

Wilson said the effort to close NGOs began first with the government adopting "more intensive regulations," which required "more monthly, quarterly and annual reports from NGOs." This quickly led to grant payments from Western sponsors to local NGOs being intercepted by the Uzbek government, and the outright closure of the offices of international NGOs, both US-funded and European-funded. In some cases, local employees of international NGOs were prosecuted by the Uzbek government for alleged infractions of the registration and accreditation requirements in Uzbekistan.

The efforts of the Uzbek Ministry of Justice are accompanied by "State-sponsored press attacks against NGOs," said Wilson. One of the latest press attacks against Wilson's led Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia claimed the organization's decision to close (or as the article asserted "the self-liquidation") its Tashkent office rather than continue to fight de-registration in the Uzbek courts, was "proof" that the organization had violated Uzbek law. Many other international NGOs formerly working in Uzbekistan have also faced similar smear campaigns in the Uzbek state-sponsored press, Wilson said.

Wilson said the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia "followed the laws" in the countries in which they operate, "particularly in Uzbekistan," and had provided $10 million in assistance projects since 1993. The Uzbek Ministry of Justice alleged 10 violations of Uzbek law against the organization which ranged from claims it had been "working outside of its mandate," to "failing to have a registered logo," said Wilson. The foundation's Uzbekistan-based lawyers advised Wilson that "none of the charges are valid," but the foundation decided to close its offices "rather than risk" any further government action against its Uzbek staff and grantees.