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Tuesday 15 November 2005
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UZBEKISTAN: Trial of US-based media NGO begins

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

TASHKENT, 18 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Two local staff from the US-based media NGO, Internews, went on trial on Monday in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent following a year-long campaign to halt the work of Western-funded pro-democracy organisations in the country.

As the trial opened in Yakkasaroy district court, the judge ordered representatives of foreign organisations and journalists, who wanted to monitor the trial, to leave the courtroom. "This is a violation of judicial procedures," Fyodor Kravchenko, a lawyer with Internews, said.

"The other news for us was when the public prosecutor declared that the representative office of Internews in Uzbekistan must be liquidated, and I think it is imminent," Kravchenko added.

The Uzbek government has accused 'Internews Network' - as the programme is known locally - of "conspiracy to engage in productions of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses" earlier this month, charging two local staff, former Internews director Kholida Anorboeya and an accountant, Olga Normatova. The accused could go to prison for six months if found guilty.

Pressure on international organisations working in Uzbekistan to support local democracy, free speech and a free press, have escalated following popular uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine and in March, in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The popular revolts have toppled long-standing Soviet-era leaders in these post-communist republics. Uzbekistan's authoritarian president Islam Karomov and his counterparts in Central Asia are worried that a little liberalisation will result in them being swept from power.

In August 2004 Internews Network's bank accounts in the country were frozen. In September last year, three months before parliamentary elections, the court closed the local office for six months.

Internews is the latest Western organisation to have come under pressure recently in Uzbekistan. Last year Uzbek authorities expelled the Open Society Institute, a project of the US billionaire George Soros, who has been working to foster democracy in the former Soviet Union.

The Open Society Institute had been particularly active in the education and media sectors in Uzbekistan.


 Theme(s) Democracy
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AFGHANISTAN: Election results finalised, 14/Nov/05

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