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Uzbek Gov’t Refuses to Accredit RFE/RL Bureau, Suspends Accreditation of Four Journalists

(Washington, DC — December 12, 2005) In a letter received today by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan “refuse[d] prolongation of the accreditation” under which RFE/RL has, since 1996, been allowed to operate a office in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. In addition, the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suspended the individual accreditations of four journalists working for RFE/RL’s Uzbek, Turkmen, Tajik and Kazakh Services in Uzbekistan.

The Chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Govenors (BBG), Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, condemned the Uzbek government’s decision. “It is a disturbing development,” he said, “which places the government of Uzbekistan at odds with international norms of press freedom.” He also deplored the harassment of other foreign journalists by Uzbek authorities in recent months.

RFE/RL Acting President Jeffrey N. Trimble pointed out that “This unwarranted action by Uzbek authorities further erodes the already dismal state of free speech in Uzbekistan, and is yet another attack by the Karimov government on the basic human rights of the Uzbek people.” Trimble also noted that, “While hindered, RFE/RL will not be deterred in its efforts to report accurately and objectively about events in Uzbekistan to the people of that country and throughout Central Asia and the rest of our broadcast region.”

Notice of the refusal of accreditation was received at RFE/RL’s broadcast center in Prague, Czech Republic this morning (December 12, 2005). The letter, written in response to one sent on August 30, 2005 by former RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine, comes more than four months after the bureau’s annual accreditation expired on August 4, 2005. No official communication had been received by either the RFE/RL Tashkent Bureau or RFE/RL management in Prague or Washington concerning accreditation renewal prior to today’s letter. RFE/RL had continued to operate the Tashkent Bureau, at a reduced level, after the August expiration of its accreditation — in accordance with experience from previous years, when re-accreditation was delayed but made retroactive to the date of the last expiry. Copies of both letters are available at RFE/RL.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service and its correspondents in Uzbekistan have been dealing with increasing pressure and harassment from Uzbek authorities and state-owned media outlets since the mass unrest that broke out in the city of Andijon on May 12-13, 2005. RFE/RL correspondents provided independent news coverage of the unrest in Andijon, during which rights groups allege that hundreds of civilian demonstrators were killed by Uzbek government forces. Since then, at least nine Uzbek Service correspondents and their families have received threatening phone calls, been interrogated by security officers, had recording equipment confiscated or been physically beaten (a chronology of harassment can be found on the RFE/RL website).