Uzbek court orders closure of US media watchdog
TASHKENT: An Uzbek court has ordered an international media charity to close its office in the Central Asian country in a move the US-based body said would lead to a crackdown on other foreign non-governmental organisations.
Internews Network, which helps media in 50 countries, has worked with independent television channels and trained journalists in the authoritarian ex-Soviet state since 1995.
“They gave us one day’s notice about the hearing and then sped through the proceedings at an incredible rate,” Catherine Eldridge, head of Internews in Uzbekistan, said in a statement issued late on Friday.
“The closure of Internews Network sets a precedent for the Uzbek government to liquidate other foreign NGOs on the basis of biased court cases and trumped up or trivial charges.”
Court officials could not be reached for comment.
Rights groups have long accused the Uzbek government of cracking down on the country’s few independent media as part of what they say is the cover-up of a massacre in the eastern town of Andizhan in May when troops brutally quashed an uprising. Internews said the court decided to close it on a number of charges, including using the Internews logo without registering it first with the Ministry of Justice.
“The judge refused our request to call witnesses, denied all our petitions and was blatantly biased. This is obviously a politically motivated case,” Internews said, adding that it planned to appeal the verdict.
Last year, Internews’ bank accounts were frozen, forcing it to suspend its programmemes. Last month, a court found two of its employees guilty of working without the correct licences and illegally using a logo.
The campaign against NGOs and human rights groups comes at a time when the Uzbek authorities fear a repeat of the popular uprisings that bought down the governments of other ex-Soviet states - Georgia, Ukraine and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan, ruled by President Islam Karimov, has accused US-funded charities of backing “people’s revolutions” in those countries over the last two years. UN officials deny any funding is aimed at ousting leaders. reuters