The Uzbek government officially deported the correspondent of a Norway-based persecution watchdog group after detaining him since Thursday, according to a statement released today.
Igor Rotar, the Central Asia Correspondent for Forum 18, was detained on the morning of Aug. 11 following the instructions of the National Security Service secret police for political reasons at the highest levels.
Forum 18, which monitors religious persecution in Communist and former Soviet states, has on numerous occasions reported on the religious persecution within Eastern European countries including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan Serbia, Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Rotar, in particular, has been noted for his consistently informed reporting of the religious freedom situation in Uzbekistan.
Initially the Uzbek intention was to try and force Igor to buy his own ticket out and claim that he was not deported, but his principled strong objections to this tactic resulted in his official deportation, Forum 18 reported Saturday. Uzbekistan's unjustified detention and formal deportation of a widely respected religious freedom reporter, along with the continued crackdown on the independent media, raises many serious issues of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to defend human rights and the safety of journalists carrying out their legitimate work.
According to the watchdog group, Rotar's unjustified detention and subsequent formal deportation from Uzbekistan attracted strong expressions of support and concern from a wide range of individuals, human rights organizations, foreign ministries and other international organizations across the world. Among the groups that made efforts to assist Rotar and Forum 18 were Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation, International Religious Freedom Watch, the International Religious Liberty Association, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, several foreign ministries and a range of news organizations worldwide.
Forum 18 and Igor Rotar would like to say a very big thank you to everyone who by their prayers and practical actions helped end this totally unjustified detention, the group stated. We are extremely grateful to you all for your excellent help.
Despite Rotars release, Forum 18 said there was still cause for deep concern because of the state of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights in Uzbekistan.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the Secretary of State to designate Uzbekistan as a "country of particular concern," or CPC, for the severe, systematic, and ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief carried out by their governments.
The Commission claimed that government of Uzbekistan placed strict restrictions on religious practice and continued to crack down harshly on individuals and groups that operated outside of government strictures.
According to the USCIRF, Uzbekistan has a highly restrictive law on religion that severely limits the ability of religious communities to function, leaving over 100 religious communities of various denominations currently denied registration. Reportedly, all Protestant activity in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan is now banned and several Protestants now allegedly face criminal charges for their religious activities.
Based on the criteria in the International Religious Freedom Act, Commission Chair Michael Cromartie, said Uzbekistan deserves CPC designation "without a doubt.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) also issued a report last month on the Uzbekistan governments intensified repression of religion claiming that whilst Uzbekistan's government is 'democratic,' it still uses Soviet-style corruption and repression to shore up elites and keep its grip on power.