Uzbekistan: Journalist Attacked by 'Hooligans'

Authorities deny ordering assault on prominent independent reporter as part of crackdown on government critics.

Uzbekistan: Journalist Attacked by 'Hooligans'

Authorities deny ordering assault on prominent independent reporter as part of crackdown on government critics.

Officials have dismissed suggestions by human rights activists that a brutal attack on an award-winning journalist was part of an ongoing effort by the authorities to silence critics.

Police have blamed "common hooligans" for the June 21 assault on Zakirjon Ibragimov - long a thorn in the government's side - in the southern Andijan district of the Fergana valley, which left him with serious injuries.

A number of rights activists have claimed that he may have been beaten up on the orders of someone in authority with a grudge against him.

Ibragimov told IWPR that a couple of men approached him in the street and began hurling insults. As the remarks grew more offensive, he challenged them and was punched and kicked to the ground.

An official from the local department of internal affairs said one of the attackers punched Ibragimov in the stomach with such force the journalist lost consciousness.

Doctor Abduvakhid Irmatov, who examined the victim at the Andijan hospital, said the journalist suffered a fractured jaw, a ruptured right eardrum and suspected concussion.

The assailants are now in custody and an investigation is underway. However, police have ruled out activists' suspicions about the motives for the assualt. "The attack was not ordered by someone in revenge, the men were simply drunk," said local officer Akbarali Shakirov.

The victim says he has no idea who was behind the attack, but insists that it was not a random act of violence. "I got the impression that they wanted to start an argument any way they could," he said. "I didn't have time to say anything or tell them who I was."

But Saidjakhon Zainabuddinov, local representative for the Society for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, said the incident had all the hallmarks of a "professional" beating ordered by someone powerful who'd been offended by his writing.

"They wanted to provoke Zakirjon into a fight and started hitting him when that didn't work. Their punches and kicks were all precise and designed to seriously injure a person," he said.

A number of journalists claim to have been intimidated in a variety of ways in recent years. Internews media lawyer Karim Bahriev told IWPR that he knew of more than 10 writers have complained of being persecuted because of their profession. Some have been beaten, others convicted on trumped up charges or lost their jobs.

Last month, Mohiat newspaper writer Dilmurod Said was attacked by a group of hooligans after the publication of an article by him about unemployment. "When the guys were hitting me, the policemen standing nearby told me 'now you will know better what to write and what not to write'," he claimed.

Last year, Majid Abduraimov, a journalist from the southern Surkhandarya region, received a long prison sentence after being found guilty of taking bribes. He has maintained his innocence and said that he was persecuted after publishing a number of articles about corruption. Abduraimov insists the money in question was planted in his car.

Ibragimov, who has provoked the wrath of the state on a number of occasions, has previously been put under surveillance and warned over his journalistic work. Last year, he had to go into hiding for a time after writing an article for Internews highlighting the plight of homeless people in Andijan. And in June he was called into the regional administration centre and asked, politely, to drop a story he was researching into government seizures of farmland.

Ibragimov was named journalist of the year at the 2002 International Day of Free Speech celebrations in May, and was awarded a prize by the Open Society Institute and the UN office in Uzbekistan.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR director in Uzbekistan

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