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The Crackdown on Civil Society and International Actors
The crackdown on civil society following the Andijan events focused particularly on human rights defenders and independent journalists. During the last year, human rights defenders have faced increased harassment, surveillance, house arrest, interrogation, arbitrary arrest, criminal charges, and interference with their work. Some human rights defenders have faced public Soviet-style denunciations and hate rallies, and others have been evicted from their homes. Currently eight human rights defenders are serving prison terms of between five and ten years. An additional twelve human rights activists were detained and had criminal charges brought against them during the year, but are not currently in detention.
Independent journalists have also been targeted. Several journalists were harassed and accused by the government of spreading false information. The indictment of those tried in the Supreme Court leveled accusations against thirteen local and foreign journalists. At least one journalist, Nosir Zokirov, who worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was convicted of insulting a security officer and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Many other journalists and human rights defenders fled the country fearing persecution.
In late February 2006, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a new law further restricting the work of independent journalists. On May 3, 2006, the Committee to Protect Journalist concluded that Uzbekistan is one of the ten most censored countries in the world.
Those courageous Uzbek human rights defenders and independent journalists who remain in Uzbekistan continue to face severe repression and the threat of imprisonment. Their families are also at risk of persecution. On March 16, 2006, the husband of a human rights defender was beaten up by an unknown assailant while he waited for his wife to return from monitoring a trial. On April 29, 2006, the pregnant wife of another human rights defender was beaten up by a police officer during a house search. During the first quarter of 2006, at least three human rights defenders and one journalist were denied an exit visa, which is required for travel abroad.
In addition to this unprecedented wave of harassment, detentions, and arrests of local civil society activists, the Uzbek authorities have also targeted international nongovernmental organizations and media outlets. During the past year, courts in Tashkent, the capital, ordered the liquidation of Internews, IREX, Freedom House, ABA CEELI, and Counterpart International. On December 13, 2005, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty closed its office after its staff members were denied re-accreditation. On March 6, 2006, the Eurasia Foundation announced it was closing its Tashkent office after it was charged with having registered improperly and having held unauthorized workshops. On April 21, 2006, a staff member of Human Rights Watch was denied re-accreditation.
On March 17, 2006, the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered UNHCR to close its office in Uzbekistan. The decision appears to have been in retaliation for UNHCRs efforts to protect Uzbek refugees who had fled Uzbekistan after the Andijan massacre.