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Uzbekistan's Latest Vilification Campaign

Uzbekistan - Logo of the Uzbek National TV and Radio Company
Uzbekistan - Logo of the Uzbek National TV and Radio Company

RFE/RL reported in late December on a “documentary” broadcast on Uzbek state television that denounced imprisoned human rights activists. Aired in the run-up to the December 27 parliamentary elections, the program continued the government’s practice of vilifying independent voices.

The documentary, "Violence Behind The Mask," was shown on the Uzbekistan state channel on December 21. It portrayed four jailed activists as dangerous recidivist criminals. International human rights organizations say the four were convicted of trumped-up or politically motivated charges and are political prisoners.

The program claimed that Isak Abdullaev, an author of several critical articles about Uzbek President Islam Karimov who is in prison after being convicted of financial crimes, is a polygamist who kept illegal weapons.

Solijon Abdurahmanov, an independent journalist and former contributor to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service who is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges widely believed to be fabricated, is shown in the film as a drug dealer. Prominent poet Yusuf Juma, sentenced to five years in jail, is portrayed as a habitual criminal.

Some rights activists say they believe the film was produced on orders of the Uzbek government.

Abdurakhmon Tashanov, chairman of the Tashkent-based rights organization Ezgulik (Benevolence), told RFE/RL he thinks the documentary was made to mislead some visiting international rights activists about conditions inside the country. He added that it is also intended to intimidate and pressure younger rights activists.

The “documentary” is reminiscent of a program aired on state television in 2008 that accused members of RFE/RL’s Uzbek service 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. After the program initially aired in June, it was made publicly available on DVD. In 2007 state television launched a vilification campaign against independent journalist Alisher Saipov shortly before he was murdered.

In another attack on freedom of expression last month, Uzbek photojournalist Umida Ahmedova was arrested on December 16 and charged with defaming and damaging the country's image on the basis of photos and videos she took. Many of the images in question were used in documentaries sponsored by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent; Ahmedova's work was also featured in the One World Film Festival in Prague in 2006 and has been used by RFE/RL's Uzbek service.

Earlier in December, authorities detained human rights activists Nodir Akhatov, Gulshan Karaeva and Ahmadjon Madumarov to prevent them from meeting with Tanya Lokshina, a researcher from Human Rights Watch who was on a reporting mission in the region. Lokshina herself was assaulted by an unknown woman during the visit and held for several hours and questioned at a police station before being forcibly removed by security services from the city of Karshi to Tashkent.

In a press release issued following these events, Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Uzbekistan’s international partners have been praising the government for human rights improvements, but this praise is wholly undeserved…Anyone who tries to report on human rights in Uzbekistan clearly risks getting attacked, arrested or worse.”

Freedom House, another watchdog group, also called attention recently to intensified pressure by the Uzbek government on opposition and rights activists. In its 2009 annual survey, Freedom in the World, issued this week, Freedom House ranks Uzbekistan among the “Worst of the Worst” for political rights and civil liberties.

Malika Sharif, RFE/RL Uzbek Service also contributed to this report.