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Uzbek journalist receives refugee status

Uzbek journalist receives refugee status

The journalist Elena Bondar has been granted refugee status from the UNHCR. Bondar had been working as a reporter for Ferghana News Agency, the leading news site covering Central Asia, often writing under a pseudonym. Uzbek authorities opened criminal investigations against her, and she was forced to leave the country. Originally, the UNHCR rejected her application for asylum, but the decision was overturned after Bondar lodged an appeal.

Norwegian Helsinki Committee provided support for Bondar when she initially left Uzbekistan, and the NHC was also among signatories to a support letter submitted by a number of international organizations during the appeal procedure, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

Uzbekistan remains one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Independent journalism is practically non-existant in the country. NHC was among organizations to submit alternative reports to the UN Human Rights Council before the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Uzbekistan on 24 April 2013.

During the UPR, the delegation from Uzbekistan had to answer to sharp criticism from numerous UN member states. Among the issues raised was the widespread use of torture, the lack of an independent investigation of the May 2005 massacre in Adijan, child labor, the large numbers of political prisoners, freedom of expression, persecution of journalists and human rights defenders and bans on homosexuality.

Uzbekistan responded by claiming there are no political prisoners in the country, that there is an active NGO sector, and refusing to admit the systematic use of torture in detention facilities. As is common when confronted with these issues, the delegation pointed to legislation rather than practice.