Uzbekistan: Authorities Intensify State Propaganda On Andijon Tragedy
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
The fight for the hearts and minds of Uzbeks has intensified since the Andijon bloodshed on 13 May. The government has clamped down on independent journalists and led a campaign against foreign media for reports that contradict the official version of the events. State propaganda now seems to be getting the upper hand, with television broadcasts of so-called "documentaries" about Andijon. One of the films shows Akram Yuldoshev, whom the government accuses of founding the alleged Akramiya Islamist group. In the film, Yuldoshev admits to being behind the May unrest -- despite the fact that he has been in prison since 1999.
Prague, 11 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The film "Temptation Leading Toward The Abyss" was broadcast on Uzbek state television on 30 July. Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
It shows Yuldoshev asking forgiveness from the Uzbek people and admitting he was behind the Andijon bloodshed, which broke out between police forces and public demonstrators protesting the arrest and trial of 23 local businessmen accused of religious extremism. Authorities say the unrest led to the death of 187 people, including many police officers and government troops. Human rights groups put the number much higher.
"I am the greatest culprit in the past events, because it was I who brought together 20 young men and urged them to take up arms," Yuldoshev says in the televised footage. "During the [13 May] tragedy, I urged my religious brothers to start fighting jihad. I issued a fatwa for this purpose. Even though I knew that weapons were likely to be used and blood was likely to be shed, I issued a fatwa. I am the greatest culprit, I am the greatest criminal, I am the most villainous man, I am to blame for this."
In the documentary, Yuldoshev also appears to implicate another alleged Akramiya member, Qobiljon Parpiev, in the unrest. Parpiev, who was in the Andijon regional administration building on 13 May and held negotiations with Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov, managed to escape the violence. He fled Uzbekistan and instantly became one of the country's most wanted men. Parpiev spoke to RFE/RL from an undisclosed location.
"I haven't seen the film myself, but I spoke to those who had," Parpiev said. "They and I believe [Yuldoshev] was in a very difficult situation. He was tortured, because he looked very different -- not like he looked before, when some people visited him [in prison]. He looked very thin and exhausted. It was clear that he was tortured."
Another film, "The Flame of Ignorance," was broadcast on 5 August and was devoted to Andijon city prosecutor Ganijon Abdurahimov, who was killed, allegedly by Andijon militants, on 13 May.
Parpiev saw this video but said it was government troops -- not his fellow demonstrators -- who murdered Abdurahimov.
"In the previous video, they showed shots that, as they put it, were made by terrorists," Parpiev said. "But if you noticed, they didn't show any shots of demonstrators who were speaking at a microphone set up at the Bobur monument. If they had shown them, people would see what Ganijon said that day. He said he received an order from the government to try the 23 men a year ago. He was shot by sniper as he said this. Why would we kill him? He was a witness. We needed him. He was the first they killed because of what he said."
Another video, “The Night That Shook the Golden Valley,” broadcast on 16 July, accuses the international community of “having geopolitical interests in Central Asia” that have led to “attempts by some major powers to make Central Asia dependent on them” and “bring Uzbekistan under their control."
The international media also come under attack. The video accuses foreign journalists of siding with alleged terrorists, saying: “They tried to justify the criminal group armed with assault rifles, pistols, and Molotov cocktails. They called them peaceful demonstrators, and then turned a blind eye to the aggression and onslaughts by the terrorists."
The state-sanctioned Andijon documentaries are seen as part of a government propaganda campaign aimed at convincing Uzbeks the official version of the events is true.
Have they had the desired effect? People in the Uzbek capital Tashkent appeared to have a mixed reaction.
"What can I say about the film? One doesn't know whom to believe," said one Uzbek woman. "Everyone has his or her opinion. If you ask my personal view, for example, I wouldn't say I believed everything 100 percent."
"Yes, I believe it," said another woman. "Finally, the people get a clear picture of what happened. Rumors are disappearing now. They showed how terrorists had used a peaceful population as human shields."
A third woman said: "I saw two documentaries, but didn't get an answer as to why the people went to the demonstration. They didn't tell it openly. They should have explained the reasons of the people's unrest. There is always a reason. But they hid it."
Bahodir Musaev, an independent sociologist from Tashkent, accused Uzbek authorities of adopting Soviet-style brainwashing -- blocking the flow of independent information while intensifying their own propaganda efforts. But Soviet methods are no longer effective, Musaev said. People now understand there is often a vast difference between what authorities say and what is actually happening.
In addition, said Musaev, there are new sources of information, like the Internet, that are difficult to control. That, in turn, dilutes the effect of state propaganda.
"I don't think [the propaganda is effective]," Musaev said. "I think no one takes it seriously because very few people watch our television. It became clear several years ago that people didn't trust our mass media. I don't know who [the authorities] want to deceive. Only themselves?!"
Sharof Ubaydullaev, a Tashkent-based independent journalist, agreed and said the recent documentaries might backfire.
"It's nothing but a fable, it's a fable to say [Yuldoshev] was able to run everything from behind bars," Ubaydullaev said. "Our secret service wants to convince us of this. But don't they understand that we are now even more likely to think of Akram Yuldoshev as a great, and even godlike, figure? I think those who are doing all of this up should think of the possible consequences. For example, the question that may arise is what has [the security service] been doing? Hacking around?"
Both Ubaydullaev and Musaev said Uzbek officials are aware of the limited effect of state propaganda -- but are using every means available to hold on to the power that was seriously challenged in Andijon.
(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondents contributed to this report from Tashkent.)
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Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org