Internews to close in Uzbekistan?

by Laurence on 9/6/2004

Here’s an interesting report from the Associated Press, that the Uzbek government may shut down Internews in Tashkent, on what sounds like a technicality.

The organization is a locally registered branch of Paris-based Internews International, which helps train media throughout the world and also monitors press freedom violations. Earlier this year, authorities in the tightly controlled nation shut the office of philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute for alleged anti-constitutional activity. The Justice Ministry’s request for Internews-Uzbekistan’s suspension, filed on Friday, was based on findings of an official inspection in June. The investigation claimed the group’s charter contained inaccurate information on the number of its board members, and failed to indicate that its operations extend outside of the capital. It also found that the organization had not informed authorities of a change of address.

One angle not emphasized in this AP story, is that not so long ago, the head of Internews in Tashkent put her diary on the Web, and called it “Uzbekistan Diary.” She made numerous harsh personal criticisms of Uzbek staff, repeated rumors about the sex lives of her American compatriots, and eventually got in some trouble with her American superiors and colleagues. I used to read “Uzbekistan Diary” religiously because it was absolutely fascinating, as gossip usually is. It also gave me some idea of the kinds of people who were working for American NGOs doing “democracy building,” teaching “journalism,” or “fighting censorship.” Let’s put it this way, based on her reports, you wouldn’t want some of them working with you in the USA… Then, suddenly, one day, the author CENSORED her own diary, making it password-protected. No one but her friends could read what the head of Internews–a supposedly anti-censorship, free-speech, open-journalism organization– had to say. But we knew it was something interesting. I tried, but could not get, a password. I do hope the author will turn the now-secret contents of her “Uzbekistan Diary” into a book, especially if Internews closes in Tashkent. Publishing her diary might do more for freedom of expression than anything else Internews may have done in Uzbekistan.

UPDATE: has more on Internews here.

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