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CAPSULE REPORT: Two weeks after Andijan, media crackdown continues

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is a 26 May 2005 RSF capsule report:

RSF has strongly condemned the latest attack on press freedom in Uzbekistan in which cameraman Vladislav Chekoyan of Russian TVTs was assaulted on 21 May 2005 by Uzbek border guards on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border.

Chekoyan was filming a demonstration by about 1,000 people on a bridge in Kara-Suu, over the River Charkhansai, which separates the two countries. The demonstrators were demanding the release of insurgents arrested in Kara-Suu by Uzbek forces on 18 and 19 May. Guards also seized Chekoyan's camera and mobile phone

"This latest assault on press freedom shows that the use of violence against journalists is common practice for the Uzbek authorities, as is the use of disinformation to control the media," the organisation said.

"We therefore call on President Islam Karimov to do his utmost to guarantee freedom of information in Uzbekistan and to immediately stop this policy of lying, as the country is going through a crucial step in its political and social development."

For five days following the mass shootings in Andijan on 13 May, the town was cut off from the outside world.

In another incident, three journalists who tried to get to Andijan in the days after 13 May have been sent back. Journalist Dmitri Yasminov and cameraman Viktor Muzalevsky, of Russian REN-TV, were held for two hours at a checkpoint a few kilometres from Andijan on 14 May. Alexei Ivliev, of Russian NTV, who was working in the Andijan area, was forced to return to the capital Tashkent under police escort on 14 May.

A press trip, which was entirely controlled by the authorities, allowed some 30 journalists and foreign diplomats to visit the town for a few hours on 18 May. None of them was allowed to talk to residents or to visit School No 15 which was used as a morgue after the 13 May shootings that reportedly left up to 1,000 civilians dead.

On the same day, a team led by journalist Sviatoslav Tsegolko of Kanal 5 television was arrested on arrival at Tashkent airport. The journalists were held by customs for six hours on the grounds that they had no official accreditation. Their equipment was also seized. The Kanal 5 crew was finally able to go to Andijan after an intervention by the Ukrainian embassy.

Elsewhere, Uzbek authorities have stepped up their disinformation campaign since the European Union, the United States and the UN called for an independent international inquiry into the bloody events of 13 May.

On 21 May, First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov sent instructions to all Uzbek media outlets on how to cover the events in Andijan.

On the same day, President Karimov's press service told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that "several media, including dubious websites, [were] putting out subversive information that the situation [was] not stable in Andijan, while this absolutely does not correspond to the facts."

On 22 May, Uzbek media outlets also hammered home the message that news being put out by international media should not be believed and lambasted the idea of an international investigation. "It's like someone coming to your home and telling you that he wants to raise your children," an old man introduced as an Andijan resident told the state-run television news.

A majority of the most popular Uzbek and Russian independent websites are still being blocked by the state provider, including http://www.fergana.ru, http://www.uzland.uz, http://freeuz.org and http://www.tribune-uz.info.

The Russian site http://www.utro.ru, as well as those of the daily "Nézavissimaya gazeta" (http://www.ng.ru), NTV (http://www.ntv.ru) and "Radio Svoboda" (http://www.svoboda.org) are also inaccessible in the country. Uzbek Internet-users can only get as far as the home pages of http://www.lenta.ru, http://www.gazeta.ru and http://www.newsru.com.

President Karimov denies that the army fired into the crowd without warning on 13 May, leaving between 500 and 1,000 people dead in Andijan and the east of the country. According to Karimov, 169 insurgents died in clashes with army and security forces. On 20 May, the UN confirmed that the Uzbek president had rejected the idea of an independent investigation into the violence.

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