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State-Run Uzbek TV Endangers RFE/RL Journalists

Radio Ozodlik staff at Prague HQ (CPP), 23May2006
Radio Ozodlik staff at Prague HQ (CPP), 23May2006
(Prague, Czech Republic) Authorities in Uzbekistan are systematically endangering the lives of RFE/RL journalists and their families. The government's most recent provocation occurred on June 9 and 10, when state-owned television accused RFE/RL journalists of "anti-state activities" and broadcast personal information about them, including the names of their children and other family members, photographs, passport information, addresses, and places of work.

"We consider this a direct and deliberate attempt to endanger our journalists," says RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. "The Uzbek government has produced these broadcasts to portray our journalists as criminals. These are the acts of an outlaw regime, not of a respectable government. If anything happens to any of our journalists, or their families, the international community should hold President Islam Karimov personally responsible."

International groups reacted quickly to this incident: "These broadcasts are jeopardizing the safety of RFE/RL journalists and their families," says Elsa Vidal of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres). "Targeting them as 'traitors' is usually the first step toward greater harassment."

Andrew Stroehlein of the International Crisis Group also fears these broadcasts could be a precursor to violence: "This is really, deeply worrying," he says. "These television stations are known to have close links with the security services, and it's very well known that last year, when they vilified another RFE/RL journalist, Alisher Saipov, he was murdered shortly thereafter."

The broadcasts, which aired during primetime television to an estimated audience of 11 million on government-controlled TV, were made on the same day that Uzbekistan was holding a "media freedom seminar" in Tashkent at which organizers of the conference barred the participation of leading international media groups and subverted an agreement with the EU to conduct such a program jointly. "I think the Uzbek government just believes it can get away with not only rubbing salt into the wound of the relationship with the EU over this media seminar, but also that it can act with complete impunity against people who are trying to bring some kind of free information to the citizens of that country. It's awful, appalling in every way," says Stroehlein.

Earlier this week, Uzbek police arrested former RFE/RL and Voice of America journalist and human rights activist Solijon Abdurahmanov on charges of "anti-government" activity. Last month, on the third anniversary of the Andijon massacre, when troops loyal to Uzbekistan President Karimov opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing around 700 people, including women and children, the Uzbek government arrested and detained former RFE/RL journalist Nosir Zokirov, the first reporter to cover the events at Andijon.

Last year, Alisher Saipov, a correspondent for the Voice of America and frequent RFE/RL contributor for Uzbek language programs, was gunned down near his office in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh. The murder of the 26 year-old ethnic Uzbek is believed to have been ordered by the Uzbek security forces with the cooperation and green light of the Kyrgyz security services. Saipov is survived by a young widow and baby daughter.

Although most of RFE/RL's Uzbek-language journalists live in Prague because the Tashkent bureau was forced to close in 2005 after reporting on the Andijon massacre, many of their families remain in Uzbekistan.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, called Radio Ozodlik (Liberty), broadcasts six hours of programming a day to Uzbekistan via shortwave, medium wave and satellite broadcasts. Programming is also available online at English-language news from Uzbekistan can be found on the RFE/RL website at