Still no space for press freedom five years after Andijan massacre

Five years ago tomorrow, on 13 May 2005, the Uzbek authorities fired on a crowd in Andijan, in the eastern Ferghana Valley and expelled journalists from the city to prevent them covering the atrocities taking place there. It will always be a black day in the history of human rights violations in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov rightly continues to appear in the updated list of “Predators of Press Freedom” which Reporters Without Borders released 10 days ago, on 3 May, to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Although Uzbekistan is again regarded as just one more partner by many European bodies, there has been no evolution in the appalling situation of rights and freedoms in this central Asian dictatorship. Although far from ideal, the situation got much worse after May 2005 and never really recovered. Not only is the foreign media not tolerated, but local journalists are being subjected to more and more harassment.

At least 11 journalists are currently held in Uzbekistan’s prisons, in which, according to many reports, torture is virtually systematic. This unfortunate record would appear to establish Uzbekistan as Europe’s biggest prison for the media.

Journalists can be branded as the country’s “enemies” just for covering a political, economic or social issue such as poverty, public health or the situation of women. When this happens, they may find the most absurd accusations being brought against them such as insulting the Uzbek people or religious extremism, the charge on which the popular radio host Khayrullo Khamidov is currently being tried. Or they may find themselves confined against their will to a psychiatric hospital like Jamshid Karimov, although he is the president’s nephew.

Reporters Without Borders takes the opportunity offered by this anniversary to reiterate its appeal to the Uzbek authorities to embark on a sincere policy designed to liberate the activities of the country’s media.

In particular, the press freedom organisation calls for the release of Khayrullo Khamidov (Nawruz), Sayid Dilmurod (Ezgulik), Bakhrom Ibragimov (Irmok), Davron Kabilov (Irmok), Ravshanbek Vafoyev (Irmok), Abdulaziz Dadakhonov (Irmok), Botyrbek Eshkuziyev (Irmok), Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov (freelance journalist), Jamshid Karimov (freelance journalist), Jusuf Ruzimuradov (Erk) and Mohammed Bekjanov (Erk).

Reporters Without Borders also reiterates its incomprehension and disappointment at the European Union’s policy of dialogue, which has produced no improvement in the press freedom situation and solely benefits President Karimov and his government.