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Journalists Targeted to Deter Others in Uzbekistan

By News Briefing Central Asia

In a recent series of cases, the Uzbek authorities have turned their attention to independent journalism, putting a local reporter on trial and expelling two foreigners.

On March 26, a court in the capital Tashkent found investigative reporter Victor Krymzalov guilty of defamation – a criminal offence in Uzbekistan – and imposing a 1,350 US dollar fine.

Krymzalov has exposed shortcomings in the judicial system, and the prosecution service in particular, over many years. He has managed to get investigative articles on legal injustices published in newspapers like Pravda Vostoka and Chastnaya Sobstvennost.

The article that landed him in court was not, however, one he penned. Judges claimed there were “indications” he wrote the piece concerning a pensioner evicted from his home, and published by the Centrasia.ru news site last year, and that seemed to be enough to secure a conviction.

"If the court had acted according to the law and looked into the matter, it would have to have sent a query to the [Centrasia.ru] web portal to identify the author of the piece," Krymzalov said. "I believe there’s a political subtext to this case."

He noted that during the court hearings, the prosecution called on the judiciary “to make the case public so that others would be deterred from criticising the judicial system in Uzbekistan”.

On March1, BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava was deported on arriving at Tashkent airport.

No reason was given, but Antelava believes the Uzbek authorities are angry at the negative coverage the regime gets in the western media.

Then on March 23, the authorities deported prominent Russian photojournalist and writer Victoria Ivleva. She had come to run a masterclass in photojournalism together with leading Uzbek photographer Umida Ahmetova.

She was expelled on arrival at the airport, once again without explanation.

"When I was told I was being deported, I refused to go and demanded to see the Russian consul. They threatened to lock me up," she told NBCentralAsia. "Two soldiers in camouflage took me by arms on either side, manhandled me down the corridor and put me on a flight to Moscow.”

Ivleva is uncertain why she was declared persona non grata – it could be the one and only article she wrote about Uzbekistan some years ago; or it could be that she attended a demonstration at Uzbekistan’s Moscow embassy in support of Ahmetova, who stood trial for pictures that “libelled the Uzbek nation” in 2009.

A media expert in Tashkent said the cases were meant as a warning to other reporters.

"These are salutary acts of punishment designed to intimidate others," he said.

The Press Freedom Index for 2011 published by Reporters Without Borders puts Uzbekistan in 157th place, along with Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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