Two independent journalists have been detained in Uzbekistan’s capital for taking photos of a local market.
Reporters Without Borders writes that police stopped the two journalists, Pavel Kravets and Sid Yanyshev, around 1700 on July 30 at Askia Market in Tashkent. While the two say they were taking photos of the market for stories about Uzbekistan’s upcoming Independence Day, the police accused the two of “pursuing a strategic goal.”
According to an emailed statement from the Tashkent-based Human Rights Aliance, the police released the two men that evening after destroying their materials and instructing them to return to the local police station the following day with their passports.
Throughout Central Asia, photographers will often find themselves harassed by authorities (and/or local thugs) for snapping just about anything, from colorful markets and city scenes to so-called strategic objects, like government buildings and railroad stations. ("The whole world can see this on Google Earth," isn't generally an effective defense.)
But Uzbekistan, where pictures of anything aside from smiling children and monumental architecture are generally frowned upon by the government, takes the paranoia to a new level. In 2010, celebrated Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova was found guilty of “slander” by an Uzbek court for her images documenting the difficulties of rural life and the life of women. Under intense international pressure, the court amnestied her before she served any time in prison. (See some of her photos here.)
Harassment, detention, and sometimes the disappearance of journalists are standard government operating procedures in Uzbekistan. Reports Without Borders lists the Central Asian country as an “Internet enemy.” The organization notes that currently there are 10 Uzbek journalists in jail due to their reporting, and investigative journalist Jamshid Karimov, the nephew of Uzbek President Islam Karimov who was confined to a psychiatric hospital for several years, has been missing since January.
There are hardly any foreign reporters working in country, since the government rarely grants press visas, and there are multiple cases of journalists and photographers arriving in Tashkent and being swiftly deported. Daniil Kislov, the founder and editor of Fergana News, an independent news agency focusing on Central Asia, recently painted a bleak picture of how difficult it is for journalists to operate:
Imagine the following: You’re not a tourist, but a regular person, a citizen of Uzbekistan. You’re walking in the streets and taking pictures of buildings. Within five minutes an officer will come up to you and ask you for documents. If you’re not very cooperative, you could be taken to the police station. Who knows what they’ll do with you. They could accuse you of being a spy and say that you are insulting the Uzbek people.