Reporters Without Borders is calling for the immediate release of Nosir Zakirov, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Uzbekistan’s eastern province of Namangan, who was convicted of “insulting a government official” and sentenced to six months on prison on Aug. 26.
“We are outraged by the severity of this sentence, which is out of all proportion to the alleged offence and shows the extent of the threat to free expression in Uzbekistan, where criticism is not tolerated anywhere,” the group said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders said it had registered three other cases of harassment of Radio Free Europe correspondents since June, adding that “harassment of an independent radio station is unacceptable.”
Zakirov’s prosecution was prompted by his action in letting a local resident, Haydarali Komilov, read a poem on the air in which he criticised the government’s violent crackdown on protesters in the city of Andijan in May.
The prosecution made much of a phone conversation between Zakirov and the Namangan police in which he objected angrily to the pressure being put by the authorities on Komilov to publicly state that he was forced to read the poem on the air.
Zakirov, who has worked for Radio Free Europe since 1996, was one of the first to be in Andijan in May and gave a live report of the storming of the prison by telephone. (RSF, Aug. 31)
See our last post on the press crackdown in Central Asia.