Media watchdog groups warn of a further crackdown on press freedom as the trial of 15 men charged with trying to overthrow the Uzbek government in the southern city of Andijan last May enters its second week.
"We are deeply concerned about the escalating crackdown on journalists by the Uzbek authorities," Pascale Bonamour, head of Europe desk for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said from Paris on Monday.
As the trial began, Uzbek prosecutor Anvar Nabiyev said Western aid groups, human rights organisations and foreign media had launched an information war against the Uzbek government, accusing them of bias and of having planned the events in Andijan, along with militant Islamic groups.
Collaborating that further, in what appeared like well rehearsed statements, the 15 alleged leaders, all of whom pleaded guilty on 20 September, accused the Western media of organising the revolt.
RSF is not alone in its concern. On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Karimov to stop scapegoating the press and to end his government's campaign of intimidation and repression against the independent media. The government crackdown, which had targeted several international news organisations in dozens of incidents over four months, was part of a broad effort to obscure the full extent of the 13 May massacre in Andijan, the New York-based group said.
In the months since, retaliation against journalists had been severe, CPJ research showed, with some journalists requesting that the watchdog group refrain from publicising abuses they had encountered out of fear they may face further retribution.
Journalists working for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have been threatened, detained, searched, and assaulted, the news organisation noted, while some had been placed under surveillance and had their belongings confiscated, a CPJ statement said, adding journalists' families had been threatened and harassed as well.
In all, RFE/RL has documented more than 30 cases of attacks on its journalists. On 19 September, an appeals court in the northeastern city of Namangan upheld the recent conviction of Nosir Zokirov, a journalist for the Uzbek service of RFE/RL. Zokirov was sentenced to six months in prison on a charge related to his reporting on Andijan.
Meanwhile, three of the defendants on trial described on Monday how they had trained at military camps in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, further collaborating the government's claim of a conspiracy that included foreign fighters and funding.
According to the AP report, the testimony by the three, all ethnic Uzbek citizens of Kyrgyzstan, opened the second week of the carefully choreographed trial. Tashkent hopes the trial will refute accusations of a massacre by government troops, supporting its claim that extremist Islamic groups from abroad were responsible.
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