Uzbekistan bans journalist who recorded evidence of massacre - Press Gazette

Uzbekistan bans journalist who recorded evidence of massacre

By Caitlin Pike

World Service journalist Jenny Norton, who recorded the only audio
evidence of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan on 13 May, has been
banned from returning to the country.

The Uzbek government has
accused her of being one of the foreign journalists they allege
assisted Islamic extremists to stage a coup resulting in the killings
in Andijan.

But Norton, who was named personally by Uzbekistan’s
prosecutor general in a government trial of those charged following the
protest, claims the Uzbek authorities are falsely portraying the
massacre of hundreds of demonstrators as an uprising against the

Norton, now World Service planning editor for
Eurasia, described her sadness that the journalists she knew in
Uzbekistan had suffered such severe intimidation from the authorities
that they too were forced to flee the country and were seeking
political asylum. She said press freedom was non-existent inUzbekistan
and the government news service portrayed a “parallel reality”.

the events in Andijan, Norton told Press Gazette: “I was in Andijan up
until the afternoon before the unrest happened, reporting on a
long-running protest outside the local court where a group of
businessmen were on trial accused of being Islamic extremists. Many of
the people I spoke to were caught up in the violence the following day.
Some of them died. Some of them are still on the run.”

On the day
of the shootings in Andijan, Norton was in Tashkent. She received a
call at midnight telling her there had been an attack on the local
prison. She and her colleagues sat in the BBC office for the next 18
hours talking to people on the phone and trying to work out what was

“We were able to record and relay back to London the
voices of people involved in the mass demos on the town’s central
square, some of those occupying the town hall, the rising ten-sion as
helicopters circled overhead, and then, as the storming of the building
began, the sounds of heavy gunfire, people shouting and screaming, and,
worst of all, the sound of terrified people saying their last prayers.
This was the only audio available on the day, and remains, I think, the
only recording ofwhat actually happened.”

Norton went back to
Andijan with a BBC team a week later. “We found a city in fear and were
eventually thrown out after we tried to get to a cemetery where a local
gravedigger told us that victims of the shootings on the central square
were being buried in mass graves,” she said.

Norton conducted
interviews in both English and Russian for radio and TV before, during
and after the events of 13 May. “The Russian stuff especially put me on
the Uzbek authorities’ radar screen,” she said. “In the months since,
I’ve been dealing with the consequences for our office and staff in

We’ve been under constant attack in the media in
Uzbekistan. Our office is barely able to function. Seven BBC employees,
including the World Service correspondent, have had to leave the
country because of threats and intimidation by the authorities. Two
have been granted political refugee status by the UNHCR. Five of us
have been named personally by the prosecutor general during the course
of the trial. People’s lives have been completely turned upside down.”