Source AP ©

Uzbek reporter for Deutsche Welle to face up to 10 years in prison

An Uzbek reporter for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle faces up to 10 years in prison after being accused of defaming President Islam Karimov.

Yuri Chernogayev said Tashkent prosecutors also charged him with tax evasion and "illegal dissemination of information threatening public security and order."

"This is a provocation with many episodes," he told The Associated Press by telephone from the Uzbek capital. "They want other journalists to watch out and shut up."

Authorities in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic have stepped up pressure on Western and independent journalists since after the bloody crackdown in 2005 on an uprising in the eastern city of Andijan; survivors and human rights groups say hundreds were killed by government troops, while the government insists fewer than 200 died.

In the months following the Andijan uprising, Karimov's government shut down the local offices of the British Broadcasting Corp.; U.S.-funded Radio Freedom/Radio Liberty and a dozen U.S.-funded aid groups, two of which worked to promote free media.

Several journalists working for foreign media have also been jailed or beaten.

In March, Chernogayev and his colleague, Natalya Bushuyeva, were accused of tax evasion. After Bushuyeva left Uzbekistan, Chernogayev was accused of aiding her escape, but after several interrogations he said he was left alone by authorities.

Chernogayev said he was told to stay in his apartment until the trial begins next week.

Last year, Deutsche Welle's two Uzbek reporters were stripped of their media accreditation after reporting that 30 people had frozen to death on a stranded bus en route to Russia. Authorities denied the incident happened.

Also Wednesday, an international media watchdog urged authorities to be "lenient and reasonable" with Chernogayev.

"This is a travesty of justice designed to silence those working for foreign media," the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Uzbek media are strictly monitored and censored, and the independent online publications are filtered by government-controlled Internet service providers.

Karimov, a former Communist boss, has ruled the Central Asian nation since before the 1991 Soviet collapse, eliminating opposition and silencing government critics.