Uzbekistan’s Only “Critical” Website Suspended
A website that many Central Asia watchers have long believed airs leaks from Uzbekistan’s security services is taking a break after Uzbek authorities criticized its coverage of a border skirmish this week. On July 25, Sergey Yezhkov, editor of Uzmetronom.com, said he would suspend the website indefinitely. Though Uzbekistan is one of the world’s worst countries for journalists, he expressed surprise that authorities would silence those who “utter any word which is out of tune with official propaganda.” “We don’t understand whether it is a short-term hysteria caused by some momentary undercurrents, or a long-term program with full consequences,” Yezhkov wrote in an editorial. He also denied that the website – which proudly brands itself “blocked in Uzbekistan,” yet has operated from there since 2006 – is “close to the Uzbek security services.”He tried to explain away this widespread belief: “[W]e did not even try to argue, although we never were ‘close.’ At least, we were not closer than others [...] unfiltered information coming from within the country is always preferable to what is produced outside.”Moscow-based Fergana News said that Uzmetronom came under fire after publishing a report on a July 23 skirmish on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border that left two dead. Uzmetronom received a letter on July 24 from the Military Prosecutor’s Office warning against covering the clash “without receiving accurate information on this incident from relevant bodies,” Fergana News quoted the letter as saying. The letter added that such reporting could destabilize the situation on the border.Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have exchanged harsh words this week following the incident; both sides insist guards from the other country illegally crossed the border. Several Uzbek news sites, including Uzmetronom, had claimed that intoxicated Kyrgyz guards invaded Uzbek territory. On July 24, Bishkek said it had not apologized for the incident, as some Uzbek media had reported.Uzbekistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists say. Because most critical journalists are in jail or have been chased out of the country (or have been murdered), Uzmetronom – which was best read with a healthy dose of skepticism – was unique. Yezhkov could not say how long the suspension would last but suggested he might entrust his website to journalists living abroad. **UPDATE, July 29: Uzmetronom is already back. In a post dated July 28, a statement on the website said that following a “short silence caused by unusual circumstances,” and “tens” of letters of support from fans, the editors had decided to resume operations.The post suggested that last week’s closure was the will and decision of a single, powerful official. “Moreover, we dare to hope that a nod from one official, albeit very high-ranking, is not a policy of the state, which has voiced support for the democratization of the media,” the website said.“Time will show whether our hopes are justified or whether this is another delusion,” Uzmetronom added.