RFE/RL's Uzbek Service was expelled from Uzbekistan in 2005 by then-President Islam Karimov. Only months before, Uzbek security service forces opened fire at peaceful protesters in the southeastern city of Andijon, killing at least 200 people. The massacre prompted the government to close the country to most international organizations – and potential critics.
RFE/RL relocated the Service's operations and most of its journalists to Prague. Just over a decade later, the Service, known locally as Radio Ozodlik, was awarded the U.S. Agency for Global Media's (USAGM) David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award in recognition of the courageous determination of its journalists to provide Uzbekistan’s citizenry with a means to speak truth to power, despite grave risks to themselves, their families, and the relatives whom they left behind.
In accepting the award, Service Director Alisher Siddique attributed the Service's impact to an ethic of persistent innovation and an insistence on integrating the latest technologies into newsgathering and distribution. As a result, Ozodlik boasts tremendous engagement with its audience – despite not having a single “official” reporter in the country – and an extensive network of citizen journalists that enables the Service to "receive, develop, edit and distribute back to Uzbeks the news they need, about themselves, their communities, and their government.”
Ozodlik's reporting has contributed to numerous changes in government policy over recent years, including decisions to abolish the death penalty and ban the use of child labor in the country’s cotton fields. Its investigative reporting has reveals numerous high-level scandals, including corruption that led to the arrest of Gulnara Karimova, the late president’s daughter. It was the first to report the news about the death of President Islam Karimov in September 2016.