(PRAGUE, Czech Republic)
Less than a year after being released from an Uzbek prison, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Umida Niyazova is one of five recipients of Human Rights Watch's prestigious Human Rights Defender Award.
In Januray 2007, the Uzbek government sentenced Niyazova to seven years
in prison, arguing that her coverage of the 2005 government-sanctioned massacres in Andijon created "public disorder." They also deemed illegal her popular RFE/RL radio program, "The Time of My Destiny," an on-air documentation of the victims of Andijon.
"We give this award to journalists like Niyazova – men and women who continue to expose abuses and seek justice for victims of human rights abuses in their countries," says Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth. "It's an honor to stand with such brave and determined people."
In February, Niyazova was released from prison after serving five months behind bars. At the time of her sentencing, Niyazova told the Uzbek court: "If we want to build civil society, criticism of the authorities must be allowed. This is the very idea of democracy."
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service Director, Sojida Dhakhfarova, says Niyazova's commitment to delivering uncensored news to people in Uzbekistan is inspiring to other journalists who believe in a free press. "Umida Niyazova literally risked going to jail every time she filed a story for us," says Dhakhfavora. "We are very proud to have such a brave journalist as a colleague."
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Radio Ozodlik
, was established in 1953 as part of Radio Liberty's broadcasting to the Soviet Union and has continued to serve the Uzbek public since independence in 1991. The Service overcomes official obstacles to its news-gathering and broadcasting with innovations aimed at providing Uzbekistan's 28 million citizens with a reliable alternative to state-run media.