Source AP ©

International media watchdog urges EU not to lift sanctions against Uzbekistan

The EU was urged by international media watchdog to maintain sanctions against Uzbekistan, which were set up after the bloody crackdown on a 2005 uprising.

In an appeal just days before the second anniversary of the May 13 violence in Andijan, Reporters Without Borders said the European Council should retain sanctions when they come up for review Monday unless the Uzbek government guarantees respect for human rights and ends persecution of government critics.

"Europe should not sacrifice the defense of human rights for the sake of access to Uzbek hydrocarbons and it should not become an accomplice to President (Islam) Karimov's repressive policies," the Paris-based group said.

Government troops opened fire on a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, killing at least 700, according to rights groups and survivors. The government insisted 187 died and blamed Islamic militants for instigating the violence.

Authorities in the resource-rich, ex-Soviet republic have since stepped up a crackdown on dissent and expelled dozens of foreign-funded civil groups and media outlets. The local media is tightly controlled.

At least 15 rights defenders have been assaulted, arrested or sentenced to long jail terms on charges they called trumped-up following the Andijan violence, according to rights groups.

Rights activist Gulbakhor Turayeva who had claimed to have seen hundreds of dead bodies heaped in a school yard in Andijan after the government crackdown, was sentenced to almost 12 years in prison at two separate trials in the past several weeks for slander and anti-government activity.

Independent journalist Jamsheed Karimov, who is President Karimov's nephew, has since last year been under forced psychiatric treatment in a hospital in the central city of Samarkand.

Karimov has ruled the Central Asian state with an iron fist since before the 1991 Soviet collapse first as the Communist Party boss and then as president, tolerating no dissent and eliminating opposition.

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