International media rights groups have expressed alarm over this week's suspension order against the Uzbek branch of Internews, a media training and watchdog organisation, three months ahead of parliamentary elections.
"This is very bad news for Reporter Without Borders (RSF)," Sorie Blatmann, head of RSF's Europe desk, told IRIN on Thursday from Paris, expressing her concern at the recent court order against the locally registered branch of Internews, over administrative issues.
She said that, in addition to the continuing crackdown on independent media in the country, it seemed the authorities were also targeting NGOs because of the upcoming parliamentary elections in December. "I hope both Internews and the Uzbek authorities can sit down together and resolve this situation," she added.
RSF's reaction came after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement following an Uzbek court ruling on Monday, ordering the suspension of Internews for a six-month period. "The closure of Internews-Uzbekistan comes amid a broad government crackdown on independent media and non-governmental organisations ahead of the parliamentary elections," the New York-based CPJ said in a statement.
Joshua Machleder, Internews's regional manager for Central Asia, told IRIN on Thursday that the organisation was planning to appeal against the court decision and explained that the Tashkent office couldn't be closed during the appeal process. "We have 20 days to appeal," he said from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
"People involved in NGOs believe that authorities will be closing down any activities that are threatening the country's governance," Machleder added, suggesting that the sentencing of Internews-Uzbekistan was for political reasons ahead of the election. "The government is taking a direction into the crackdown on independent media and this is related to the upcoming election."
According to the Ministry of Justice, the locally registered branch of the watchdog group failed to regularly report its activities to the authorities and gave false information on the size of its board. They also found that the NGO had failed to inform the authorities of a change of address.
"Shutting down Internews-Uzbekistan for such technical violations is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle criticism of the government as elections approach," Ann Cooper, CPJ's executive director, stated.
Khalida Anarbayeva, head of the Internews-Uzbekistan office, told IRIN earlier they submitted corrected documents to the justice ministry in time and that the submission was registered. "The court ruling was baseless and a pretext to continue the pressure on NGOs working with foreign donors ahead of the parliamentary elections."
Internews-Uzbekistan has conducted more than 50 seminars and other events which involved nearly 400 people working for independent TV and radio stations across the country. The seminars' participants have included journalists, camera operators, editors, managers, sales agents and those without a professional background.
"We have two projects ["Reducing Demand for Drugs" and "Monitoring Freedom of Speech in Uzbekistan"] that we won't be able to continue if the closure happens," Machleder said, explaining that this would also affect a regional conference on freedom of expression that they were planning to hold.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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