No Hope of Free Press for Uzbeks, Turkmen

No Hope of Free Press for Uzbeks, Turkmen

Saturday, 14 February, 2009
According to the International Press Institute, IPI, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan continue to exert heavy pressure on journalists.

NBCentral Asia observers doubt this situation is going to improve any time soon.

On February 10, in its 2008 World Press Freedom Review, the IPI focused on press freedom in the Asian region, where it said “state authorities fabricate accusations against journalists… to silence the independent and critical voices”.

In Turkmenistan, journalists continue to be prosecuted and incarcerated. Last June, for example, RFE/RL stringer Sazak Durdymuradov was arrested and held in a closed psychiatric hospital for two weeks. During this time he was tortured.

He was released after being forced to sign a statement promising not to work with foreign media any longer.

The Turkmen government’s tight grip over the media has remained unchanged since Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov became president two years ago.

In its section on Uzbekistan, the IPI report cites the arrest of Solijon Abdurahmonov, a journalist and human rights activist jailed after being convicted on fabricated charges of drug dealing last year.

The report also points out that dozens of Uzbek journalists have had to leave the country because of government persecution. In addition, the authorities have forced foreign media organizations like the BBC, Deutsche Welle, RFE/RL and the Russian NTV channel out of the country by annulling their accreditation and pressuring their journalists.

Although there are a fair number of media and internet outlets in Uzbekistan, they are all subject to rigorous controls, and have to steer clear of the numerous topics deemed to be taboo.

“The strict censorship discourages us from writing”, said one journalist in the Fergana valley in eastern Uzbekistan.

Media analysts in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan say journalists there cannot carry out their basic mission – to provide their audience with objective information. The authorities hamper them every step of the way.

A Tashkent-based journalist said that after attending a training workshop outside Uzbekistan, he was interrogated at length by the secret police, who warned him not to attend such events in future.

“They are afraid we might start writing anything we want,” he said by way of an explanation.

A journalist in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat disagrees, insisting that the authorities will never let things get to the where the press writes what it wants. Instead, he said, governments are far more concerned that journalists might submit articles to foreign media, thereby informing the international community about the harsh realities of life in these countries.

“In our country, cooperation with the foreign media is tantamount to espionage,” said the journalist.

A media analyst in Turkmenistan remembers one case where a local journalist was asked to write something for a foreign outlet about the relatively innocuous subject of education.

The local journalist refused in terror, saying, “I don’t want to go to prison.”

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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