Press Freedom in Central Asia
Welcome to the first of what will be a semi-regular roundup of news on press freedom and freedom of expression in Central Asia. We’ll start with the recently-published Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2005, which provides some useful background on the subject. Out of 167 countries surveyed, none of the ‘Stans manage into the top 100 – Kyrgyzstan leads in 111th place, followed by Tajikistan at 113, Kazakhstan at 119 and at Uzbekistan at 155, with the ‘black hole’ of Turkmenistan scraping in at 165. Only Eritrea and North Korea fare worse.
As if to prove the point, the Turkmenbashi has just personally sentenced a journalist to eight years in prison – apparently for ‘treason’. In brighter news, the OSCE has recently been making efforts to encourage journalism in Turkmenistan, but so far only in the environmental field.
In Kyrgyzstan, the independent media have been suffering from a “wave of threats and intimidation”. There’s evidence for this from IWPR’s report that the Bishkek prosecutor’s office has warned newspapers which criticise President Bakiev may face legal action. In addition, journalists have rallied to support the editor of the newspaper ‘Kyrgyzstan Flag’, who was sacked for being too independent. His replacement? The head of the Government’s PR department.
Kazakhstan’s main printing company, which happens to be owned by President Nazarbayev’s sister-in-law, Svetlana Nazarbayeva, has refused to publish seven opposition newspapers. Kazakh television viewers will also soon have a new channel to watch. However, don’t expect huge ratings – it will be run by Otan, the main pro-government party.
In Tajikstan, James recently discussed how the Communications Ministry has been cracking down on local independent broadcasters. That has now been followed up by the suspension of BBC FM broadcasts, supposedly for ‘administrative reasons’. More on this from James and Tajik Boy here and here.
The IREX Media sustainability report on Uzbekistan has already been covered by Nick in detail. In a further blow to what remains of the free Uzbek press, journalists have not permitted at trial of the opposition leader Sandzhar Umarov.
Finally, RFE/RL recently carried an interview with the head of Reporters Without Borders’ post-Soviet section, regarding the rather dim prospects for press freedom in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in 2006.