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HomeAsian News‘Censorship in Our Minds and Hearts’  – The Diplomat

‘Censorship in Our Minds and Hearts’  – The Diplomat


That is half two of a two-part investigation into the SSS’s rising repression of Uzbekistan’s journalists. Half one is out there right here.

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN: An 11-week investigation into freedom of the press in Uzbekistan discovered that one of many greatest challenges journalists and bloggers face is stress from the State Safety Providers (SSS). Journalists and bloggers say the SSS threatens and intimidates them and their households, and compels them to delete tales. The SSS calls for that journalists and bloggers cease overlaying sure subjects, reminiscent of high-level corruption inside the authorities, the dealings of rich businessmen, spiritual practices, or something vaguely disrespectful to the president or his household. 

The investigation was blessed by the federal government of Uzbekistan which welcomed me as an American journalist and U.S. Fulbright Scholar — a analysis grant from the U.S. State Division — to analysis challenges journalists on this nation face in reporting about corruption and authorities malfeasance. From March to June, I interviewed greater than 40 journalists, bloggers, human rights activists, media watchers and authorities media displays. I had beforehand interviewed practically 100 journalists about obstacles to press freedoms in eight different post-Soviet international locations.

Journalists in different post-Soviet international locations face issues with intimidation, police overreach, courtroom citations, fines, arrests and blocked web sites. For instance, in Belarus, the KGB brazenly movies protesters and makes no secret of following journalists. However right here, the SSS operates largely within the shadows. Their threats and intimidations stifle journalists from reporting about corruption and issues that the newly elected president says he must find out about to make reforms. The result’s a media that’s timid and self-censoring, a populace that’s afraid to talk out, and a rustic that promotes the façade of a free press when in actuality it’s a nation within the grip of propaganda. 

Regardless of repeated requests, the SSS refused to fulfill with me in the middle of reporting this story.

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Rost 24 Threatened

Rost 24 editor, Anora Sodikova, introduced on April 14 that she and her colleagues had been threatened with hurt if she didn’t delete a narrative and video about Uzbekistan businessman Jakhongir Usmanov. His title got here to Sodikova’s consideration within the large information leak often known as the Pandora Papers, which listed him as an proprietor of an offshore firm, in keeping with the story. Sodikova’s report additionally linked Usmanov to a charity fund that allegedly channeled massive sums of cash via this offshore account. 

Sodikova refused to say publicly who was threatening her, even to Ezgulik, Uzbekistan’s solely impartial registered human rights group, which is backing her. However she instructed me: It was the SSS who made the threats. 

Anora Sodikova began her personal media platform, Rost 24, a year-and-a-half in the past after she was fired from a state-run information company for posting a narrative on Fb about residents’ reactions to a dam collapsing. Photograph offered by the creator.

“If I say it was the safety forces, there might be an issue,” she mentioned. “Apart from, how can I show it?”

On the identical time Sodikova’s colleague acquired threatening telephone calls, a “sniper blogger” started a smear marketing campaign in opposition to her on social media alleging she was having an affair. 

“This sniper blogger mentioned the subsequent time he would present photos,” she mentioned. “Similar to they did with Feruza.”

Final yr a feminine journalist from Qalampir.uz, Feruza Najmiddinova, was the goal of a smear marketing campaign when somebody unfold a video of a lady having intercourse with a person on a balcony. The nameless poster mentioned it was Najmiddinova having intercourse with a person who wasn’t her husband. Since then, Sodikova, a Muslim, has feared the SSS would use this tactic to break her fame. 

This was the third time the SSS had pressured Sodikova to take down a narrative. The primary time she ignored the threats. The second time, in Could 2020, an SSS officer referred to as her husband, she mentioned. That point she took down the article.

After the second SSS encounter, Sodikova’s husband separated from her for six months as a result of he mentioned he was afraid for his or her youngsters’s security. 

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“My husband mentioned to me, ‘If you wish to stay with me, if you wish to maintain our household secure, for those who love me and our youngsters, you must quit your job.’ I instructed him I really like my household and my mates. I can’t quit my job. I like my job additionally.”

She and her husband reunited in October 2020. Lately her oldest son Googled her title and requested: “Mother, are you actually in peril?”

“I instructed him I’m okay.”

However later Sodikova realized that the Uzbekistan Artistic Union for Journalists had gotten concerned in her case. 

“As the top of the union, I can’t skip this case,” mentioned Olimjon Usarov, who till a yr in the past was the federal government spokesperson for the Uzbek Supreme Courtroom. “I requested the prosecutor to analyze the case. To threaten a journalist is illegal and prison. If that individual truly exists who threatened her, he might be discovered.”

Usarov mentioned the police pulled telephone data from her telephone and her colleagues’ telephones. They pulled surveillance movies close to her dwelling and workplace looking for the person who got here as much as her in a restaurant and instructed her to take down her story. Police requested to talk together with her husband. 

“Anora requested us to take again the case,” Usarov mentioned. “That was attention-grabbing for me.”

Sodikova didn’t welcome the union’s involvement. As an alternative, she apprehensive that the federal government was attempting to set her up. That’s the reason she requested them to cease the investigation. She mentioned she additionally fired her reporters at Rost 24 as a result of she suspected they could be working with the SSS. 

“They’re attempting to say that I did this for PR for my media firm,” Sodikova mentioned. 

A high-level media official near the investigation who requested that his title be withheld instructed me he thought “Anora made up this story.”

“The investigation confirmed that there have been no data of such folks and no calls,” he mentioned. “There have been no threats. We are literally questioning why this occurred and why Anora claimed this and what was behind all this.”

The high-level media official mentioned {that a} public announcement and press convention in regards to the outcomes of the investigation would occur quickly. 

Mad Canines

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s disdain for the SSS is well-known. He has referred to as them “mad canine” and “unscrupulous folks in uniform.” He has mentioned he doesn’t belief any safety official and would “rip off their epaulets if I’ve to.” In February 2018, Mirziyoyev mentioned he had acquired proof of the torture of two native businessmen in SSS custody within the Bukhara area and promised that the officers can be held accountable. 

What the president was speaking about was the torture of Dilfuza Ibodova’s two brothers, Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov, whereas in SSS custody in 2015. Ilhom was overwhelmed to demise by SSS officers and different prisoners. Rahim was sentenced to eight years in jail. Even whereas Dilfuza and her mom had been writing letters begging authorities officers to analyze her brothers’ case, the SSS threatened her to not focus on the case. 

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Dilfuza Ibdova is a blogger and proprietor of the web site tezkor-yangiliklar.uz in Bukhara. She investigates those that say they had been wrongly charged or convicted. She says the SSS don’t trouble her as a result of a number of went to jail after they severely beat and tortured her two brothers, killing one. Photograph offered by creator.

However Dilfuza didn’t again down. 

“I used to be not afraid of something as a result of I had nothing to lose,” she mentioned. 

When the president personally took an curiosity within the Ibodov case, the perpetrators had been delivered to justice: six officers and 4 prisoners had been sentenced to jail for as much as 18 years; two different officers had been discovered responsible of exceeding their authority, in keeping with the U.S. authorities and human rights reviews. The courtroom proceedings had been closed and the choices weren’t made publicly obtainable.

Feeling she had the non-public safety of the president, Dilfuza, a former kindergarten instructor with no coaching in journalism, began running a blog. In 2020, she registered her media platform with the Company for Info and Mass Communications, the federal government’s media monitor. She is the only real reporter. She reviews on information, present occasions and, for a payment, she investigates prison instances to find out if the charged are responsible. She mentioned she’s not afraid to put in writing about authorities officers. 

“The state safety forces are afraid of me,” she instructed me. “What do you anticipate when eight of them went to jail? I can write about something.”

However Dilfuza is among the few bloggers and journalists who really feel this manner. 

Shuhrat Shokirjonov is the bureau chief of Kun.uz in Samarkand and has 14,000 followers on Twitter. Photograph offered by creator.

Shuhrat Shokirjonov is the bureau chief for Kun.uz’s Samarkand workplace. He additionally blogs on Telegram, Fb, Twitter, and TikTok. On his social media accounts, he largely posts his opinions about numerous social points after which embeds hyperlinks to his factual tales on Kun.uz.

Often, he says, the SSS contacts him and tells him to delete materials. Two years in the past, on Could 9 — what was referred to as Victory Day and now is known as Reminiscence Day — he criticized the federal government for having a parade. He mentioned the SSS instructed him to delete the story. “They mentioned that criticizing the parade induced misunderstanding between post-Soviet international locations. I didn’t change my thoughts, however I deleted.” 

Shikirjonov avoids writing in regards to the SSS as a result of he is aware of he’ll face stress if he does. In any other case, he feels largely free to criticize the federal government as a result of he at all times has a motive and supplies proof. Nonetheless, he says, “I’m afraid to be blamed for no motive by the safety companies.” He’s afraid that free expression within the media may be taken away, identical to in Russia when President Vladimir Putin abruptly outlawed all media dissent in regards to the battle in Ukraine.

One other blogger from Samarkand mentioned he just lately moved to Tashkent partly due to the SSS and police surveillance in his hometown. Initially of the battle, Farukh Turamurodov, who goes by the title Samarkandi on-line, mentioned he posted on his Fb web page an image of a automobile with the image Z on its again window. The image has develop into one among help for Russia in its battle in Ukraine.

Farukh Turamurodov goes by the title Samarkandi on-line the place he blogs in his spare time about social points. He mentioned he just lately moved from Samarkand to Tashkent due to police and SSS intimidation. Photograph offered by creator.

An hour later, the SSS contacted him and requested him to delete it. 

In 2020, the SSS instructed him he shouldn’t criticize greater class employees, reminiscent of authorities officers, the president and his household, police and the SSS.

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He wrote a put up that didn’t title the president however referred to him because the “the person carrying the black swimsuit.” The SSS contacted him and instructed him to take it down as a result of it wasn’t respectful.

Then final November he complained on-line a few authorities app that wasn’t working and he was summoned to the police station. He later realized that two different bloggers had been additionally summoned the identical day. It was then that he determined to depart Samarkand.

Bloggers in different areas of Uzbekistan report that they’re adopted and ceaselessly questioned by the SSS. After I traveled to the Fergana area, the journalists I interviewed and the supervisor of the resort the place I stayed had been contacted by the SSS and requested questions on what I did, the place I went, and who I spoke with.

“Strain from the safety companies has solely gotten worse over time,” explains Bahodirxon Eliboyev, a journalist-turned-blogger within the Fergana area. Authorities spying and monitoring has had a chilling impact on each journalists and residents, he mentioned. 

“The safety companies should purchase some journalists,” Eliboyev mentioned. “If the authorities order, journalists write the whole lot that officers need. That’s not journalism. That’s propaganda. Censorship is now in our minds and our hearts.”

Bahodirxon Eliboyev runs a Telegram channel weblog from Fergana referred to as Ma-Information Company. He was previously fired from two journalism jobs for writing about controversial subjects. He began two magazines however they had been additionally shut down for protection of controversial subjects.

On July 24, 2018, Mirziyoyev’s birthday, Eliboyev mentioned he wrote a weblog put up wishing the president a cheerful birthday and requested him to not neglect the thousands and thousands of Uzbek migrant employees in Russia and different international locations as a result of they will’t make a residing of their dwelling nation.

That afternoon 4 SSS officers pounded on the door of his storage house the place he was napping, he mentioned.
 
“Once they noticed I used to be residing out of a storage, they requested;  ‘Don’t you’ve a house?’ ”
 
He mentioned he instructed them: “I can’t work as a journalist. So the place can I stay? I can’t earn cash on the one factor I’m good at.”

They warned him he would go to jail if he saved writing about forbidden subjects.

He instructed them: “I can write no matter I need as a result of your jail is like my storage. However your jail is extra comfy as a result of I don’t want to search out bread. You deliver me bread. Your jail is for me freedom.” Two hours after our interview, Eliboyev despatched me a textual content. He’d simply gotten off the telephone with the SSS. They wished to know what he instructed me, he mentioned.

First-hand Expertise With the Censors

After I got here to Tashkent in March, I met with numerous editors and homeowners of impartial newspapers, together with Kamariddin Shaykhov, half proprietor of the Qalampir.uz media platform the place the partitions are coated with pictures and illustrations of human rights points, reminiscent of home violence and authorities repression. Shaykhov mentioned his media outlet routinely receives letters and warnings from the Company for Info and Mass Communications telling them to both take a narrative down or to take away feedback on tales. 

“As soon as we get a letter from the Company, for the subsequent two to a few hours, our articles are beneath three to 4 occasions extra self-censorship,” he mentioned. “Psychologically it takes just a few hours earlier than we’re logically pondering. It’s essential to struggle self-censorship or go away with bruises.”

Kamariddin Shaykhov standing earlier than one of many partitions in Qalampir depicting Uzbekistani journalists from historical past. Photograph offered by creator.

After our assembly, I assumed it might be insightful to put in writing for an impartial media outlet and see what occurred, particularly one which was “preventing for freedom of speech,” as Shaykhov professed. I proposed writing a weekly visitor column for Qalampir about my interviews with Uzbekistani journalists. Shaykhov agreed for the reason that authorities had authorised my analysis.

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However after I turned in my second column about SSS stress confronted by journalists, together with myself, within the Fergana Valley, I used to be summoned to the Qalampir places of work and instructed that they couldn’t run a narrative in regards to the SSS. Shaykhov and his “silent” enterprise associate—whose well-known singer spouse, in keeping with paperwork, owns 75 % of Qalampir—defended the actions of the SSS for 2 hours. How are you aware the safety companies officers weren’t simply attempting to guard you? How are you aware their motives had been unhealthy? each males requested. 

It was the final I heard from Qalampir.

In an try and be truthful, I repeatedly requested an interview with the SSS. I despatched letters to the Ministry of International Affairs and the Company. 

Dilshod Saidjonov, from the Company, characterised my request as “naïve.” 

“They’re so secret they don’t also have a web site,” he mentioned. “Even for those who bought an interview with the safety companies, there would nonetheless be the identical issues in Uzbekistan’s media: no will to enhance; weak training; and lack of analytical expertise.”

Nonetheless, I persevered. I requested journalists who knew SSS officers to request an interview for me. I even wrote a weblog put up on my web site about my quest for an interview with the SSS, had it translated into Uzbek, and had a number of bloggers focused by the SSS to put up it on their blogs. I nonetheless didn’t hear again

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