International Press Watchdog Urges Release of Uzbek Journalist

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An international media watchdog on Wednesday called for the immediate release of an Uzbek rights advocate and journalist who was arrested last month.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists accused the tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic’s government of trumping up smuggling and illegal border crossing charges against Umida Niyazova as part of a crackdown on government critics.

“We call on Uzbek authorities to immediately release Umida Niyazova and to drop the trumped-up charges against her,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.

Niyazova, 32, has been affiliated with the U.S.-based organizations Human Rights Watch and Internews Network. She also wrote for a news Web site run by Russian media advocacy group, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

Niyazova was briefly detained in December, her laptop computer and papers were confiscated and passport seized. She fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, but tried to return after being told by her lawyer that the criminal investigation against her had been closed.

President Islam Karimov’s government has waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent in this Central Asian nation, closing independent media and evicting foreign-funded aid groups. His government has also closed down several Protestant Christian groups and churches, accusing them of illegal proselytizing and missionary activities.

Also Wednesday, the Justice Ministry accused the U.S.-based Christian aid group World Vision International of legal violations. In a statement posted on a government Web site, the ministry said the California-based group failed to report on expenditures, payments to volunteers and other activities and it gave the organization a month to clear up the alleged violations.

Officials at the group’s Uzbek office confirmed receiving the warning, but refused further comment.

World Vision International has been active in Uzbekistan since 2003 running a poverty-alleviation project.

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