Uzbekistan: Journalist Honored For Coverage Of Andijon Unrest

From Radio Free Europe

An Uzbek journalist has been honored with an International Press Freedom Award for her coverage of the violence in the town of Andijon last May. Galima Bukharbaeva, a former correspondent for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was honored at a ceremony in New York City on 22 November.

Galima Bukharbaeva worked as the Uzbekistan correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and she risked her life covering the events in Andijon.

Bukharbaeva spoke with RFE/RL from Andijon as the events were unfolding on 13 May.

“I was able to hide myself in a small canal, and from there I saw wounded people being carried away from of the crowd,” she said. “I saw five men completely covered in blood being carried away in front of me. The people carrying them were also covered in blood. They said those people [being carried] were dead. They were just bodies. They didn’t move. But I think some of them were wounded. There were five or maybe more people [were wounded]. People were saying, ‘Look, journalists, there are two or three dead bodies here.’ But we couldn’t look because the shooting continued.”

A Bullet In Her Press Card

Witnesses and human rights activists say around 700 people may have been killed after Uzbek troops fired into a crowd in Andijon to quell a revolt. Uzbek authorities say 187 people were killed, mostly foreign-paid terrorists.

Several hours later on 13 May, Bukharbaeva realized that she, too, had barely escaped death: She found that a bullet had pierced her backpack and press card.

On 22 November in New York, Bukharbaeva was awarded an International Press Freedom Award for her coverage from Andijon.

Never So Close

She recently spoke with RFE/RL from New York, where she now lives in exile.

“It was the first time in my life when I really faced the threat of death,” Bukharbaeva said. “The death was never so close to me as it was that day in Andijon.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which sponsors the award, acknowledged that Bukharbaeva risked her life covering the Andijon.

“In those difficult conditions, Galima has done an extraordinary news reporting,” CPJ executive Alex Lupis told RFE/RL. “She focused on very difficult and politically sensitive issues like police torture, repression of Islamic activists and the government abuse against the media and human rights activists.”

An Award For All Uzbek Journalists

Bukharbaeva faces criminal prosecution in Uzbekistan for her reporting on Andijon and alleged police torture and repression of Islamic activists. The 31-year-old recently got married and received fellowship in Columbia University.

She says the award is recognition for the work of all courageous journalists in Uzbekistan.

“This award may also be a symbol of a really hard and terrible situation in Uzbekistan,” Bukharbaeva said. “It is like a recognition of a work of local journalists who work in Uzbekistan and recognition of those really serious and hard circumstances in which we have to operate in Uzbekistan.”

The CPJ’s Lupis says Bukharbaeva’s journalism stands as an example of independent journalism in Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole.

Others honored by the CPJ this year included a Brazilian publisher and editor, a Zimbabwean media lawyer and an imprisoned Chinese journalist.