TASHKENT, 26 May 2005 (IRIN) - Independent journalists and local reporters working for foreign media, who witnessed recent violence in the eastern city of Andijan, came under increased pressure and were subjected to serious criticism, as Uzbekistan faces continuing demands for an independent international investigation into the killings of 13 May.
The government-run Russian language newspaper 'Pravda Vostoka' (The Truth of the East) on Wednesday described some local reporters of foreign media as "mercenaries who are ready to sell their homeland for thirty pieces of silver." The criticism was contained in an article entitled "In defence of National Sovereignty of the Uzbek Nation", which ran to almost a full page.
"How long we should tolerate their fantasy and provocation? The names and photos of all journalists who are trying to gain cheap prestige using people's blood and grief should be shown on a national television. Let our people know who are the real traitors," authors Ikram Sadikov and Olim Sharipov demanded.
The version of the 13 May violence presented by witnesses, rights groups and reported by journalists in Andijan, directly contradicted the government one - that holds that 169 people died when troops opened fire on demonstrators.
Uzbek authorities blamed foreign media outlets for lying about the unrest, when soldiers, called to disperse the rally, fired indiscriminately into the crowd killing between 500 and 1,000 people, mainly civilians, according to witnesses, rights groups and the opposition.
President Islam Karimov blamed the violence on militants based in neighbouring Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Tashkent went to great lengths to keep journalists out of Andijan, while temporarily holding and then removing those who managed to get into the city. IRIN learnt that two reporters had their cameras confiscated while others had tapes and films taken away from them.
Last week, Karimov accused Uzbek and foreign reporters in the country of being controlled and manipulated by sinister outside forces.
"Many media, especially independent agencie...you have to carry out orders given by your sponsors and apart from your salary, you get fees for that. I want to give a warning... I can name dozens [of journalists] whom I can't call friends of Uzbekistan," he said, ominously.
"His words were a clear signal to start a big campaign against journalists who gave alternative views of the events of Andijan," a local analyst told IRIN on condition of anonymity. "It is just starting. When international attention shifts from here - then things may look even more gloomy," he added.
"Maybe it's time for me to leave the country, as the authors of the article in Pravda Vostoka suggested," said another journalist, referring to the Pravda Vostoka article that said independent journalists should be kicked out of the country.
As journalists were being accused of being 'traitors' by Tashkent, Andijan remained closed to the media and human rights investigators, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement published on Wednesday.
"Police have either forced foreign journalists in Andijan to leave or threatened them and their support staff. Police have warned taxi drivers not to take foreign passengers to Andijan," it said.
At the same time, HRW urged Washington not to engage in any further discussions with Uzbekistan about making permanent its military base there and called on the European Union to suspend a major trade agreement until the Uzbek government allowed an independent, international inquiry into the Andijan killings.
"The Uzbek authorities are trying to shut Andijan off from the world," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of HRW. "They're going to succeed unless other governments insist on a full international investigation and soon," she added.
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