Call for humane treatment for jailed journalists and respect for press charter

Reporters Without Borders is shocked by the way the authorities are treating Ulugbek Abdusalomov, a newspaper editor based in the southern city of Jalal-Abad who has been held since June’s inter-ethnic violence and who is currently hospitalised with serious cardiac problems. He is being kept handcuffed and under constant police surveillance in the hospital.

The editor of the independent Uzbek-language newspaper Diydor, Abdusalomov was arrested on 14 June and was charged on 10 August under four articles of the criminal code with extremism, inciting inter-ethnic hatred, organising and participating in mass unrest, and separatist activities aimed at destroying the state’s territorial integrity. Regarded by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, he is facing 3 to 12 years in prison if convicted.

The victim of a stroke two years ago, Abdusalomov suffers from hypertension and cardiac and intestinal ailments, which need constant medication. But the authorities transferred him to Jalal-Abad prison where the conditions are inappropriate for a seriously ill person, despite his lawyer’s repeated requests for a transfer to house arrest on medical grounds. This is his third spell in hospital since his arrest.

Because Abdusalomov referred to the problems experienced by the Uzbek minority during the weeks preceding last June’s riots and clashes in the south, the government accused him of being linked to the Uzbek protest movement and being responsible for the clashes with the Kyrgyz population.

Similar charges were brought on 13 August against Azimzhan Askarov, a reporter for the news website Pravo Dlia Vsekh (Rights for All) and head of the local human rights group Vosdukh, who was also arrested in Jalal-Abad in mid-June and who, like, Abdusalomov, is regarded by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

An outspoken critic of human rights violations and police abuses in Jalal-Abad and the humanitarian crisis in the south, Askarov was accused of inciting demonstrators to violence during the unrest on 13 June in which a policeman was killed.

Askarov has been beaten in detention and, according to witnesses, is covered with bruises. The news website reported that his lawyer was also attacked as he was going to the prison to visit him. The authorities have nonetheless refused to order an investigation into the mistreatment of Askarov and his lawyer.

The charges brought against these two journalists are typical of the current persecution of active members of the Uzbek community by the authorities. The security services investigating the June clashes are targeting human rights activists, journalists and civil society representatives for harassment, arrest and often mistreatment.

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to improve the conditions in which Abdusalomov is being held and to ensure he gets the necessary medical care. If the authorities insist on keeping him in detention, he should be placed under house arrest because his state of health is not compatible with prison detention. Askarov should be released conditionally because he is not safe in prison.

Reporters Without Borders also urges reporters and editors to act in a professional manner and to refrain from taking partisan positions. After hailing all of the news media’s adoption of a charter on ethical principles for journalists and media on 21 May, Reporters Without Borders stresses the importance of adhering to it.

Sakhira Nazarova, a freelance reporter based in the southern city of Osh who was one of the first to sign the charter, said the media were guilty of excesses during the inter-ethnic violence. “Ethnic affiliation was constantly mentioned in articles regardless of whether it was a decisive factor and some of the quotes just fuelled the anger between the two sides,” she said.

Here are some of the charter’s principles:
- We undertake to refrain from mentioning a person’s or group of persons’ ethnic affiliation.
- We know and we keep in mind that the real reasons for a clash are linked to political, social and economic interests and not ethnic affiliation.
- We realise that, in a society, the media can contribute to the spread of information based on ethnicity and ideology... We will not use stereotypes and clichés that could hurt an ethnic group.