Human rights and journalist organizations step up campaign to stop criminal prosecution of journalists and call for release of journalist Umida Niyazova
The International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Adil Soz), the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) and 12 other IFEX members have joined in protest against ongoing harassment of independent journalists in Uzbekistan and to campaign for the release of Umida Niyazova.
Niyazova, who covered Uzbek politics and human rights for the Central Asia news website "Oasis," is charged with illegally crossing the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border and "smuggling subversive literature." Under Uzbekistans penal code each charge carries up to ten years in prison, Human Rights Watch says.
CJES revealed that Niyazova, a 32-year-old single mother of a young son, has worked for CJES since 2000 and reported for its Oasis site since 2005 under a pseudonym. "For her safety, we had withheld revealing that Umida worked for us as long as possible," CJES director Oleg Panfilov told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). She wrote articles criticising the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. She has also worked with Internews-Uzbekistan and Freedom House, with Human Rights Watch as a translator and with the unregistered Uzbek nongovernmental human rights organisation Veritas.
Her arrest signals that Uzbekistan has become more sophisticated at silencing journalists and public activists, the joint statement by the 14 groups said. It cited several criminal prosecutions of journalists and human rights activists in the past year.
Meanwhile, a report published by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) said European Union sanctions against Uzbekistan should not be lifted until the government stops persecuting its dwindling human rights community. The IHF presented a report titled "The Decimation of the Human Rights Community in Uzbekistan" to a European Parliament subcommittee on 28 February after a recent fact-finding mission. It accused Uzbekistan of systematically intimidating, surveilling, defaming, torturing and mistreating human rights activists, who also face politically motivated travel bans, prosecutions and imprisonment.
In February, Adil Soz together with CJES also drew attention to the fate of the following journalists:
In January 2006, Uzbek human rights defender Saidzhahon Zainabitdinov received a 7-year prison sentence in a closed trial, after being found guilty of disseminating false information in the media about the Andijan protests of 13 May 2005.
On 6 May 2006, Uzbek human rights defender and journalist, Mutabar Tadjibayeva, was sentenced by the courts to 8 years in prison. The court also ordered the seizure of all documents and the return of all her letters, following a police search of her home.
In September 2006, popular local poet and singer, Dadakhon Khasanov, was sentenced to three years in prison on probation for writing and singing a song about the Andijan protests.
Djazmshid Karimov, 39, a journalist from the city of Djizak and nephew of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who was missing since 12 September 2006, was detained forcibly in a mental hospital. He was held in the mental hospital instead of a prison because he is a close relative of the President.
In October 2006, the city court of Djizak sentenced journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov to 6 years in prison for extortion. Based on the ruling, delivered after two years of court proceedings, he was ordered to serve his term in a minimum security prison.