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Tribute to leading news site that was forced to close

January 14, 2015

Reporters Without Borders pays tribute to Uznews, ten years after its creation. This leading independent news website closed down last month after its editor’s email account was hacked and confidential documents were posted online exposing independent journalists in Uzbekistan to danger.

Despite obstacles, the website managed to be a key source of independent news coverage inside Uzbekistan for ten years.

Extremely strict censorship prevails in Uzbekistan, which is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Although access to the Uznews website within Uzbekistan was blocked within a year of its creation, it became the country’s most popular and influential news outlet. It finally decided to close down on 19 December, just over a month after the editor’s email was hacked.

“President Islam Karimov’s guard dogs got the better of this source of freely reported news,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“The disappearance of this leading news outlet has dealt a major blow to freedom of information in Uzbekistan, which is almost non-existent under this dictatorial regime. RWB congratulates all of its staff for their extraordinary work during the past ten years of constantly escalating harassment.”

The editor in chief Galima Bukharbayeva’s email account was hacked and confidential documents were posted online on 10 November, exposing remaining independent journalists in Uzbekistan to danger.

After suspending operations for a week, the website went back to work for a month, until the decision to shut down for good was taken on grounds that the dangers to journalists in Uzbekistan, who might have been linked to the website, were too great.

Uznews was launched in January 2005 at the end of a training programme for young journalists by the Tashkent branch of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), which was then run by Bukharbayeva.

After an uprising in the eastern city of Andijan was crushed bloodily on 13 May 2005, access to the Uznews website was blocked and all of IPWR’s staff had to leave Uzbekistan.

Bukharbayeva, who received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Prize for her Andijan coverage, then relaunched Uznews with her colleague Kudrat Babadjanov from a new headquarters in Berlin.

At least ten journalists and netizens are currently detained in Uzbekistan in connection with the provision of news and information. Two of them have been held nearly 15 years, while one of Uznews’ reporters, Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov, has been serving a ten-year jail sentence since 2008 for covering the Aral Sea environmental disaster.

The state media are subject to total censorship in Uzbekistan and there are no more than a handful of independent journalists, who mostly work for news websites based abroad such as Ferghana, Radio Ozodliq and Jarayon.

For more information contact:
Reporters Without Borders
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84

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