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Concern at Detention of IWPR Uzbek Contributor

Reporter Tulkin Karaev given 10 days in jail following Uzbek press attacks on foreign media.
By Filip Noubel

An independent journalist in Uzbekistan has been given an arbitrary 10-day sentence in what looks like part of a government backlash following the recent killings in Andijan.

Tulkin Karaev’s lawyer has tried unsuccessfully to get the sentence overturned, and has not been allowed access to his client.

Karaev, who has written extensively for IWPR, was detained on June 4 in his home city of Karshi in southwestern Uzbekistan, and was immediately brought before a judge without access to legal counsel. On the spot, the court handed down a 10-day sentence for the offence of “hooliganism”.

The alleged offence relates to an incident at a bus stop in downtown Karshi, in which Karaev says he was suddenly attacked by a woman whom he did not know.

With him at the time was human rights activist Gaybulla Djalilov, and the two men decided to go to the police to report the assault, because they suspected it was a provocation by the authorities, and they wanted to pre-empt subsequent actions.

As Djalilov later told IWPR, such incidents involving civilian assailants apparently unconnected with the authorities are commonly used to make trouble for critics of the regime.

Although Karaev had not been in Andijan and did not report on the May 13 violence, he was already on his guard as he felt he might be targeted because of previous journalistic work.

He told colleagues that his apartment had been under increased surveillance by the security services since May 13, and also that family friends had been asked to inform on him.

On Monday, June 6, a lawyer acting for Karaev, Bakhtiyor Shahnazarov, met the senior judge at the court which had handed down the sentence, in order to request an appeal hearing. The judge told him he was not yet familiar with the case, and asked him to come back the next day. When Shahnazarov did so, he was told the court was too busy to consider the matter, but that he should return the following day.

After three such deferrals, the lawyer is now hoping for an appeal hearing on June 9.

At the time this report was published, Shahnazarov had also been prevented from gaining access to Karaev as is required by the law. Each time he visited the detention facility, the policeman on duty outside rang up to get permission to let him in, and then told him no one was answering the phone.

Karaev, who is married with two sons, is one of very few independent journalists left in this part of Uzbekistan.

His detention appears to fit the pattern of a government campaign against all foreign and independent media outlets, and individual reporters, who have sought to report objectively on Andijan. A range of state-run media have been used to articulate the mounting official hostility to external scrutiny, including the government stalwarts Narodnoe Slovo and Ozbekiston Ovozi as well as other papers such as Pravda Vostoka, considered slightly less illiberal in the past.

On May 25, for example, Pravda Vostoka called for the names and photographs of all IWPR contributors to be shown on state television.

“It is evidently time to close down this office, and send this friendly bunch of journalists to another country so that they can look for ‘war and peace’ there,” the newspaper wrote.

It is not clear whether the Karshi court will grant Karaev his right of appeal.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, issued a press release expressing “dismay” at Karaev’s arrest and detention. “We call on Uzbek authorities to release him immediately and stop harassing IWPR correspondents, “ said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

Filip Noubel is IWPR’s Central Asian project manager.