05/02/2007, 00.00
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Human rights activist sentenced to seven years in jail

Journalist Niazova’s crime was to tell what happened during the Andijan massacre. Last week another witness to the event gets a six-year jail sentence. Uzbek authorities tighten screws around the internet to silence any critical voice.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Uzbek journalist Umida Niazova was sentenced yesterday to seven years in jail after being convicted of illegal border crossing, smuggling, and distributing material causing public disorder by using financial support from foreign governments.

For human rights activists, Niazova was imprisoned for publishing articles and interviews critical of the May 2005 massacre in Andijan, in which security forces shots at peaceful demonstrators.

The government, which put the death toll at 187, refused to allow an international investigation into the incident. At least 500 people were killed according to other sources.

Ms Niazova was arrested in January trying to enter Kyrgyzstan without a valid passport.

At witness to the massacre was sentenced to six years in jail last week. Gulbahor Turayeva had told journalists that at least 500 people had died in the Andijan massacre, including women and children.

She was charged with anti-constitutional activities, defamation and distributing material causing public disorder.

“Uzbek authorities are punishing Umida Niazova because she worked for groups that expose human rights abuses and they want to send a chilling message to others like her,” said Holly Carter, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In the last few weeks Uzbek authorities have also begun to censure the internet, blocking access to websites critical of the government and setting up their own to defend the latter’s point of view.

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