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Deport yourself

Issue: "Salting Hollywood," Sept. 3, 2005

Igor Rotar has been on Uzbekistan's national security service blacklist for three years, but has always been able to roam the country. Until Aug. 11. The Russian reporter, who is the central Asia correspondent for Norway-based Forum 18 news service, arrived in Uzbekistan on assignment, as he has many times before, only to be detained by border guards.

After two nervous days at Tashkent airport, Uzbek officials deported him to Moscow, but not before sparking an international outcry among diplomats and human-rights groups. Border guards planted him in the transit hall, would not allow him to make phone calls to the Russian embassy or anyone else, and prevented him from interacting with other passengers. Then they forced him to buy his own plane ticket out of the country, apparently so they would not have to deport him officially. Mr. Rotar refused.

On the second day, two self-identified immigration officials took him to another building for questioning. Mr. Rotar quickly surmised they were actually from the country's secret police after they revealed intimate details of his two years living in Tashkent. "By your libelous articles you have done great harm to Uzbekistan," one official said. "The Uzbek nation's patience is exhausted."

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John Kinahan, Forum 18's assistant news editor, believes the arrest is "part of a general crackdown on the media in Uzbekistan." Since massacring about 700 protesters in May in Andijan, Uzbek authorities have been swooping in on vocal human-rights activists and journalists.

Mr. Rotar consistently publicized abuses against religious groups, from Muslims to little-noticed minorities like Jehovah's Witnesses. "Many governments in the region don't particularly like that," Mr. Kinahan said. "If people are aware such incidents may be reported, authorities may back down."

The 40-year-old was in no mood to surrender even after being forced to return to Moscow. He plans to go back to Central Asia this month.

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