Uzbekistan: Hunger-Striking Journalists Cancel Press Conference
Malohat Eshonkulova and Saodat Amonova, two Uzbek journalists who have been on a hunger-strike to protest media censorship since June 27, were hoping to hold a press conference yesterday, but were forced to cancel it. Authorities prevented people from entering their apartment, and foreign diplomats didn't show up in any event, human rights activists reported.
Earlier Amonova was denied treatment when she went to a hospital with stomach pains on the third day of her protest fast, as she did not have a resident permit in the capital required for medical care. The two were detained June 27 after trying to launch their protest in front of President Islam Karimov's residence.
The broadcast journalists were fired from their jobs at a state TV channel when they began to protest mismanagement and censorship.
The two women took their protest to Twitter using the account @Malohat_Saodat, filing reports frequently on their hunger strike, and responding to critics. Sanjar Umarov, a former political prisoner who was tortured in prison and finally permitted to leave for the US in 2009, cautioned the women that they shouldn't sacrifice their health and should "be smarter than those against whom you are speaking out" and start a blog to chronicle corruption. An Uzbek senator told them their hunger strike was "illegal", BBC Uzbek Service reported.
Other readers challenged the journalists for their past loyalty to the regime's TV station but Amanova told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that "her eyes were open now."
Steve Swerdlow, Uzbekistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, told EurasiaNet that there was grave concern about the women's health as even after the cancellation of the news conference, they were apparently continuing their hunger strike to call attention to the lack of freedom of expression in Uzbekistan:
It is both troubling and illuminating of the state of freedom of expression in Uzbekistan today that authorities would suppress the tiniest of peaceful public demonstrations by two longtime and respected journalists on the same exact day that President Karimov speaks about the need to develop a free media.
June 27, the day the women launched their protest, was Media Worker's Day in Uzbekistan. President Karimov convened government officials, media workers and journalism professors for a meeting at a theater in Tashkent, fergananews.com reported. As on past occasions, the Uzbek dictator feigned a dedication to independent media, and acknowledged "the era of the Internet" and "dynamic development of information technologies," and urged journalists to "keep up with youth" by mastering new media.
But Karimov didn't acknowledge that harsh libel laws keep the media muzzled, and didn't talk about Facebook or Twitter, even as he said he supported broad use of the Internet and even opposed "any imposition of any walls, limitations in the world of information, which would lead to self-isolation."
In the end, the president reverted to form, however, warning that with the events both near and far, the media had to remember that there were "destructive forces trying to lead young people with immature consciousness and unsettled views on life, trying to exploit the capacities of the Internet for their own, mercenary purposes, and to what negative consequences this sometimes leads."