World media banned from reporting on Uzbekistan killings

By Dominic Ponsford

A media blackout following the suspected killing of hundreds of men,
women and children in Uzbekistan has been condemned by international
journalism organisations.

It is reportedly the latest in a long history of media repression in the country.

On
Friday, government forces were reported to have fired on thousands of
protestors in the Andijan region. It followed the prison breakout the
previous day of 23 local businessmen accused of Muslim extremism.

According
to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting its
correspondent, Galima Bukharbaeva, was one of a very few journalists to
witness the Andijan unrest. She has filed reports to CNN, the BBC and
The Observer on the situation as well as for the group’s own website.
An IWPR spokesman said: “She was arrested and had her cameras and film
taken, she was then released but heard rumours from people in the town
that the authorities were looking for her and might try to target her
and blame it on Islamic terrorists.”

According to the IWPR
intimidation, arrest and beatings are frequent for Uzbekistan’s small
community of independent journalists. The majority of the country’s
newspapers, and all four of its TV channels, are state controlled.

Local
stringers for Reuters and Associated Press were also on the scene at
the outbreak of the violence and were briefly detained. Journalists
have since been banned from the area.

International Federation of
Journalists general secretary Aidan White said: “The local media are
gagged, the foreign media are simply being told to pack up their bags
and gohome, and independent reporting of this crisis is being stifled.”

According
to the IFJ the Uzbek state broadcasters are not reporting the massacre
and foreign cable news channels have been cut. White said: “The media
must be allowed unrestricted access to the region. Without media
scrutiny the scale of human rights violations is bound to increase.”

Pascale
Bounnamour, from Reporters Without Borders, said: “All journalists were
expelled from this city during the night of 13/14 May. A team of
Russian journalists who tried to reach the city by car on 14 May were
arrested at a checkpoint and were held for more than two hours. It’s a
situation which is very dangerous because we don’t know how many dead
people there are.”

Access to Andijan was opening up again on Tuesday but certain areas were still restricted.

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