Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written question – answered on 24th February 2005.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

(1) if he will urge the Government of Uzbekistan to undertake an impartial review of all cases of imprisoned journalists in Uzbekistan;

(2) what representations he has made to the Government of Uzbekistan about (a) the relaxation of the system of state control over the media through reform of the Agency on Press and Information, (b) easing registration requirements for media outlets and (c) instructing officials to end informal and formal interference in media operations;

(3) what representations he has made to the Government of Uzbekistan about strengthening media freedom by (a) ending harassment and censorship of journalists and media outlets and (b) permitting the re-opening of newspapers closed since March 2002.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We regularly highlight the importance of free media and free speech in our relations with Uzbekistan, both bilaterally and with our EU partners.

In April 2004, the UK supported the decision of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to cut around $31 million in economic aid projects to Uzbekistan. Among the reasons given for this action was the lack of press freedom in Uzbekistan.

In May 2004 our former ambassador to Tashkent marked World Press Freedom Day by delivering a public statement that was critical of media conditions in Uzbekistan. I have publicly backed the statements our former ambassador made regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

On 11 November 2004 the EU underlined to Foreign Minister Safayev the importance of balanced and accurate coverage of the December 2004 parliamentary elections in the media.

We frequently lobby the Uzbek authorities on cases of apparent injustice and harassment of the media that are brought to our attention. For example, with the EU, we raised with Foreign Minister Safayev the issue of Ruslan Sharipov, the journalist and human rights activist arrested in May 2003.

We will continue to urge the Uzbek authorities to work towards greater freedom of the media and freedom of speech, both bilaterally and with multilateral organisations. We shall also continue to raise with the Uzbek Government individual cases that are brought to our attention. I intend to raise the issue of an impartial review of imprisoned journalists with the Uzbek authorities during my forthcoming visit to Tashkent.

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