Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Student Angers Government

A budding journalist has been thrown out of university after a run-in with authorities.
By Alexander Vasiliev

A journalism student appears to have been expelled from a Tashkent university for mocking government policies.


The official reason for Bakhodyr Elibaev's expulsion is his poor academic progress and absence from 30 hours of lessons without good reason.


But many of Elibaev's teachers and fellow students at the university for world languages claim that he was punished for writing critical articles in student publications known as "wall newspapers" - so-called because they are pinned to campus walls.


Elibaev came to the attention of the authorities in March, after penning an article on civil liberties. In it, the student wrote that if the Statue of Liberty, whose proud stance reflected America's policy on freedom of speech and human rights, were brought to Uzbekistan, she would be forced to bow her head to the authorities and adopt a fearful, submissive posture.


Elibaev claims that he was summoned in for a "heart to heart" with the National Security Service, NSS, shortly after the article was published.


"They hinted that the NSS was aware of everything that was going on at the faculty and threatened that there would be trouble if I didn't keep my mouth shut," the student told IWPR.


Elibaev's situation rapidly went from bad to worse during the course of the academic year, when he received three D grades - enough to guarantee dismissal from the faculty. One of his teachers later confessed that he had been forced to give a fail mark under pressure from the dean.


The university's rector signed the order for his expulsion at the beginning of September. In addition to his poor academic performance, it also cites 30 hours of missed lectures.


However, an IWPR source at the faculty claims that some other students have been allowed to stay on at the journalism course with far worse records.


A number of the faculty's lecturers, who did not want to give their names, told IWPR that Elibaev was a competent student who would not be expected to get one D grade, never mind three.


Instead, they claim that the student's anti-authority stance and critical articles led directly to his expulsion, and that the faculty acted to avoid a showdown with the government.


In the 11 years since independence, the Uzbek authorities have had a series of run-ins with journalism students.


Back in 1992, the journalism faculty at Tashkent State University, TSU, was placed under surveillance after a number of undergraduates publicly criticised the brutal suppression of the republic's first - and last - student protests.


At the time, thousands of students took to the streets in protest against the government's decision to drastically raise the price of staple foods such as bread and milk, which would have made its difficult for them to continue their studies.


The police responded by opening fire on the crowds, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more. There were even reports of officers breaking into campus dormitory rooms to beat up students - including a number of young women who had not even taken part in the protests.


In the wake of this violence, several journalism students went on hunger strike and held a sit-in protest at the university campus demanding justice for those killed.


Following this incident, the journalism faculty was given an official warning from the authorities that any further dissent would not be tolerated.


There was further controversy in 1994 when a presidential adviser, leading editors of national newspapers and a number of renowned poets visited second year students at TSU.


During a discussion on freedom of speech, one student asked if he would be permitted to write an article on the poetry of exiled democratic opposition leader Mohammad Salikh. The question angered the presidential adviser, and the session ended abruptly.


Soon after the faculty was closed down, re-opening a few years later. But it was investigated once more after the February 1999 explosions in Tashkent. One of the main suspects - who is still on the run - was Ulugbek Babjanov, the son of journalism faculty teacher Mukhammajon.


As a result the faculty was downgraded and moved to an isolated part of the capital. A new journalism school was created by presidential decree within the university of world languages, and replaced the TSU body that same year.


Alexander Vasiliev is the pseudonym for a journalist in Uzbekistan


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