Uzbek authorities hold reporter incommunicado, restrict coverage of crackdown on protests
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in Uzbekistan to let Lolagul Kallykhanova, a journalist held incommunicado since 1 July, receive visits from her family and an independent lawyer, to detail what she is charged with, and to stop suppressing media coverage of the crackdown on the protests in the Karakalpakstan region that she was covering from the capital, Tashkent, when arrested.
Update: January 31, 2023, Lolagul Kallykhanova was sentenced to an 8 year suspended prison sentence with a three year "probationary period". She was found guilty of plotting to seize power or overthrow the constitutional order, organising mass riots accompanied by violence and disseminating socially dangerous material with prior conspiracy by a group of people using the Internet.
“If Lolagul Kallykhanova’s rights are being respected, as the prosecutor-general’s office claims, why are her colleagues and the public still without any news of her?” asked Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The situation is absurd. Before insisting that there is no complaint about her health and conditions of detention, the authorities should let her family and an independent lawyer visit her. We urge the authorities to demonstrate transparency in this case and, more generally, to stop suppressing coverage of the protests in Karakalpakstan and the resulting crackdown.”
Kallykhanova is being held because of “indications of crimes threatening public security,” according to the statement that the Uzbek prosecutor-general’s office posted on Telegram on 8 July. It says she was one of the 14 persons who were taken into custody in a criminal case for “endangering constitutional order” in connection with the “riots” in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in the northwest of the country.
Kallykhanova, who is from Karakalpakstan, had posted protest-related content on the Telegram channel of her media outlet, Makan.uz, on the day she went missing. It included images of the protests and calls for support for peaceful resistance against a proposed constitutional amendment – since withdrawn – that would have reduced the region’s autonomy. The staff of Makan.uz reported on 11 July that they no longer had access to the Telegram channel.
Joanna Lillis, a British journalist reporting for the independent Eurasianet website, was briefly detained while reporting in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, on 2 July. Although her papers were in order, she was interrogated at a police station and was forced to delete her photos and videos.
The protests in Karakalpakstan and the resulting violent crackdown have received little coverage within Uzbekistan, where the authorities keep a tight grip on this central Asian country’s media and only a few websites publish quality independent reporting.
As well as this hostile environment, journalists are also hampered by restrictions on Internet access. All mobile phone Internet services in Karakalpakstan have been hit since 25 June and fixed line Internet since 1 July. The foreign ministry said the cuts were needed to prevent the dissemination of false news and because of “the involvement of citizens in anti-constitutional activities.” A one-month state of emergency was declared in the region on 2 July.