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HRW and BBC Returning to Uzbekistan?

In possibly its boldest gesture toward openness in years, Uzbekistan has announced that it is open to resuming cooperation with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

And in a separate development, the BBC’s Uzbek service has advertised a position for a multimedia correspondent based in Tashkent — indicating that Tashkent is gradually warming to the idea of greater exposure to international media coverage.

Speaking to reporters on July 5, Foreign Minister Uzbekistan,  Komilov described the government’s years-long refusal to accredit HRW as a pause in cooperation.

“Our cooperation with Human Rights Watch underwent something of a pause, some time in 2010. But this does not mean that we have definitively suspended relations or that we do not want to cooperate,” Komilov said.

Komilov said his office had recently received a letter from HRW executive director Kenneth Roth requesting permission for a delegation from the organization to visit Uzbekistan. Tashkent is willing to admit the delegation, the minister said.

Other language from Komilov reprising well-worn themes indicate, however, that Uzbekistan is not about to throw open its doors to HRW researchers, even if they should be granted accreditation. 

“It is indispensable that they respect our customs and traditions. You cannot mechanically take universal values from one space and introduce it to another and say that these are our universal values. We have our understanding of democratic development in Uzbekistan and there were have no forbidden themes,” he was cited as saying by Podbrobno.uz.

HRW’s Tashkent office opened in 1996, but the organization’s activities came under intense pressure following the Andijan events of 2005. In July 2011, the Supreme Court ruled to suspend HRW’s representative altogether.

This seeming opening to the US rights group comes on the heels of a landmark May visit to Uzbekistan by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad. While in the country, the high commissioner met with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and representatives of local civil society.

In another potentially heartening development, the BBC announced that it is resuming its activities in Uzbekistan. So far, it appears only the Uzbek service has got the green light and the broadcaster has accordingly advertised a position for multimedia correspondent.

The shuttering of the BBC’s office in Tashkent was also precipitated by the Andijan crackdown. 

While partial readmission of the BBC marks tentative progress, Uzbekistan still has a long way to go and many other journalists continue to be denied permission to work there. A EurasiaNet.org correspondent was earlier this year denied temporary accreditation by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry without any explicit explanation. 

HRW and BBC Returning to Uzbekistan?

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