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Fourteen IFEX members call to end criminal prosecution of journalists and to release imprisoned journalist Umida Niyazova

(Adil Soz/CJES/IFEX) - The following is a joint action statement, signed by 14 IFEX members:

Fourteen IFEX members call to end criminal prosecution of journalists and to release imprisoned journalist Umida Niyazova

International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Adil Soz) and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), along with 12 other IFEX members, have joined in solidarity to protest the ongoing harassment of independent journalists and public activists in Uzbekistan and to campaign for the release of independent journalist Umida Niyazova.

On 22 January 2007, Niyazova was arrested. She was charged with illegally crossing the border (article 223 of the Criminal Code) and bringing banned materials with her (article 246 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan), facing a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison. On 21 December 2006, customs officers at Tashkent airport seized her computer, USB flash drive and passport, saying there were some unlawful documents stored on her computer. She had to leave Uzbekistan to wait abroad for a legal assessment of the materials.

Niyazova has been working for the Center of Journalism in Extreme Situation since 2000, while also employed with Internews-Uzbekistan and Freedom House, making significant contributions to the establishment of independent Uzbek journalism. Since the closure of all international organizations in Uzbekistan, she began working for Human Rights Watch as a translator.

Her arrest obviously demonstrates that the means of "silencing" journalists and public activists in Uzbekistan have become even more sophisticated. Other cases of criminal prosecution of journalists and human rights activists are also concerning.

In January 2006, Uzbek human rights defender Saidzhahon Zainabitdinov received a seven-year prison sentence in a closed trial, after being found guilty of disseminating false information in the media about the Andijan protests of 13 May 2005.

On 6 May 2006, Uzbek human rights defender and journalist, Mutabar Tadjibayeva, was sentenced by the courts to eight years in prison. The court also ordered the seizure of all documents and the return of all her letters, following a police search of her home.

In September 2006, popular local poet and singer, Dadakhon Khasanov, was sentenced to three years in prison on probation for writing and singing a song about the Andijan protests.

Djazmshid Karimov, 39, a journalist from the city of Djizak and nephew of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who was missing since 12 September 2006, was detained forcibly in a mental hospital. He was held in the mental hospital instead of a prison because he is a close relative of the President.

In October 2006, the city court of Djizak sentenced journalist Ulugbek Khaidarov to six years in prison for extortion. Based on the ruling, delivered after two years of court proceedings, he was ordered to serve his term in a minimum security prison.

We, the undersigned:

- demand that the Uzbek authorities stop the criminal prosecution of journalists and public activists, in accordance with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- call on the Uzbek judiciary to free Umida Niyazova;
- appeal to the international media community to join us in solidarity to fight for the rights of our colleagues.

Signed:

The International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Adil Soz),
Kazakhstan
The Center of Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Russia
ARTICLE 19
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES)
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Norwegian PEN
Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC)
PEN Canada
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations

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