UNESCO highlights the role of courts in guaranteeing freedom of expression and safety for journalists in Uzbekistan

On 23 April 2021, UNESCO participated in the second International Legal Forum “Tashkent Law Spring” organized by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan with partner organization, Regional Dialogue in a session on “Ensuring the Independence, Fairness and Impartiality of the Court in the Digital Age”. UNESCO’s intervention focused on access to information, press freedom and safety of journalists as key pillars of maintaining the rule of law in democratic societies.

The event, which was held in Uzbek, English and Russian languages, featured Supreme Court Judges and high-level judges from Slovenia, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan. Moreover, international experts, like Diego Garcia-Sayan, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, also shared their insights on the need for strengthening judicial processes and maintaining a balanced use of digital technologies in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, on 5 May 2021, UNESCO participated in a virtual roundtable on the Role of Prosecutors in Proceedings against Journalists, organized by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Prosecutor General Office Academy of Uzbekistan. The virtual roundtable centred around the legal protections for journalists and media workers. It included an address by James Callahan, Senior Program Advisor for the U.S. State Department’s INL Bureau, which funded the event, along with a video message from UNESCO’s Guilherme Canela.

The roundtable provided an exchange of best practices on the procedures for conducting investigations in cases of crime involving journalists by representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Prosecutor General Office Academy as well as by two prominent American lawyers who were career journalists.

Sabin Quellet, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions of Québec City, presented the Guidelines for prosecutors on cases of crimes against journalists produced by UNESCO and the International Association of Prosecutors. He notably explained the importance of prosecutors ensuring the protection of confidential data that may lead  to  the  identification  of  a  source  in  situations  where  journalistic  sources  could be revealed during the investigation, to make a contextual analysis of the  nexus  between  the  alleged  crime  and  the  media  activities,  past  and  present,  of  the  victim, and to use the mechanisms of mutual legal assistance with other countries when necessary. The Guidelines are now available in 13 languages, including in Uzbek.

Judges Initiative was launched in 2013 to reinforce the knowledge and expertise of actors of the judiciary through series of MOOCs, workshops and seminars on issues related to freedom of expression. Since then, more than 18,000 judicial actors and representatives of civil society have been trained on freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists in Latin America, Africa and the Arab region. The contribution of UNESCO to the project organized in Uzbekistan was supported by Open Society Foundations.

In continuity with these efforts, UNESCO and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights of the University of Oxford have also developed an online training to promote international standards on freedom of expression for judicial actors. The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which will be conducted from 10 May 2021 until 7 June 2021, will be led by experts in the field of human rights and freedom of expression. Registrations to the free five-week online course are open via the following link: https://bit.ly/30UAZfy.