Wednesday 22 March 2006

Uzbekistan: A Lifeboat for the Media

This piece originally appeared in Transitions Online on 22 March 2006. About a year after the Andijan masacre, Uzbekistan had become a media void, and it was time to protect the country's independent journalists from total extinction. Sadly, as I write this in April 2011, it still is.


The fallout from last year's massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan continues throughout the country and throughout the region. Since 13 May 2005 – when state security forces fired on mostly unarmed civilian demonstrators, killing hundreds, perhaps even 1,000 – the regime's paranoia about independent public activity and its desperate drive to control information have accelerated with no apparent bounds.

Along with nongovernmental organizations and human-rights activists, the media has been a primary target. The regime has openly denounced journalists, both foreign and domestic, who reported on the massacre and the subsequent crackdown on witnesses and their families. Several international news organizations have come under harsh criticism, from the BBC, CNN, and the Associated Press to the Moscow-based service Uzbek First Deputy General Prosecutor Anvar Nabiev called journalists from these media outlets "hyenas and jackals searching for carrion," and accused them of having known about the uprising plot beforehand and launching an "information war against Uzbekistan … simultaneously with [the] terrorist aggression."

Photos of foreign journalists in Uzbekistan have been featured on Uzbek national television's main evening news program in reports headed "overview of participation of foreign media in the events of 13 May 2005." Many Uzbek journalists have been forced into exile, though their families and friends still face threats back home. Most foreign media have had to suspend news gathering in Uzbekistan, and the regime continues to broadly reject applications for accreditation of foreign journalists and foreign news bureaus. The passage of a new media law in February, which makes it illegal to work as a reporter in Uzbekistan without accreditation from the Foreign Ministry, codified the practice. Following the BBC, Internews, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and others in past months, the latest outlet to have its accreditation cancelled was Deutsche Welle, on 16 March.