Uzbekistan’s (non-existent) Media Freedom

Another student guest post…with some pretty extensive research on how limited the media is in Uzbekistan!


Reporters without Borders currently ranks Uzbekistan as 164th of 179 countries for media freedom.  Uzbekistan even made Freedom House’s list of the most repressive societies in 2012. President Karimov, Uzbekistan’s ruler since before the fall of the Soviet Union, controls the media in order to continue his reign as president by enforcing his image as a great leader and squelching any opposition movements from gaining access to an audience and support.

The state controls virtually all local media.  Foreign media—such as BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America—is not allowed to broadcast from within Uzbekistan. The Uzbekistan people had no knowledge of the Arab Spring until months after it had occurred because the state restricted all information pertaining to the uprisings.

Karimov increased internet censorship in 2012 by blocking websites deemed “threatening to the nation’s information space.” College students were banned from Internet cafes, and the local branch of a Russian telecommunications company was shut down, causing ten million Uzbeks to lose internet and phone access.  Karimov has also blocked all Wikipedia content in the Uzbek language and has created a government committee designated to monitoring the media for news that could “weaken the national cultural traditions” or that promotes the “violent overthrow” of the regime.  Approximately 30% of the population uses the internet, but most internet access is in public settings where the state can censor information. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are routinely blocked, along with BBC and RFE.

There are 1,100 media outlets in Uzbekistan (none of which are considered independent by outside monitors). The only independent journalists within Uzbekistan are from other countries and working for outside news corporations. Approximately 88 foreign press corps members were stationed in Uzbekistan before the 2005 Andijan Massacre.  Today, only 33 foreign journalists are in Uzbekistan. Foreign journalists are denied visas, subjected to interrogation, and are prosecuted for defamation or “insulting national tradition.”  Harassment, beatings, imprisonment, and unfair trials of journalists are commonplace in Uzbekistan.

Examples of journalist persecution include the stories of Muhammad Bekjanov and Dzhamshid Karimov.  Bekjanov is the longest-imprisoned journalist in the world. He has been in Uzbekistani prisons since 1999 and his sentence was just recently extended for an additional five years.  Bekjanov has reportedly lost most of his teeth and hearing as a result of beatings in the prison system.  Bekjanov operated an opposition newspaper, Erk, prior to his 1999 arrest.  President Karimov’s media control extends even to his own family: his nephew, Dzhamshid Karimov, was a critical journalist of his uncle’s regime and vanished in 2006.  Dzhamshid was found held captive in a psychiatric clinic several years later, where it appears he was subjected to psychotropic drug treatments without psychiatric review.  He was released in 2011, after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reportedly pressured the regime for his release. Nepotism in Uzbekistan only extends so far, and only to those who support the current regime.

Freedom of speech in Uzbekistan is so tightly controlled that public insult of President Karimov is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. While this law seems laughable to those of us who have lived in democracies are whole lives, this is reality for the people of Uzbekistan.  How is the opposition supposed to gain any traction against Karimov when they cannot publicly criticize him?  Because all media is state controlled, the opposition and the outside world cannot communicate with the people of Uzbekistan. They are very isolated from everyone outside of their immediate lives. All information is controlled by Karimov, and he uses this to maintain his position of power in Uzbekistan. If the West wants to pursue real change in the region, freedom of speech and independent media must be a priority.

References

Amnesty International. (2011). Uzbekistan. Retrieved March 10, 2013, from Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/uzbekistan/report-2011

BBC News. (2005, May 17). How the Andijan killings unfolded. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4550845.stm

CIA World Factbook. (2013, February 5). Uzbekistan. Retrieved February 20, 2013, from CIA-The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html

Committee to Protect Journalists. (2012, May 02). 10 Most Censored Countries. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from Committee to Protect Journalists: https://www.cpj.org/reports/2012/05/10-most-censored-countries.php#6

Committee to Protect Journalists. (2012). Attacks on the Press 2012: Uzbekistan. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from Committee to Protect Journalists: https://www.cpj.org/2013/02/attacks-on-the-press-in-2012-uzbekistan.php

Committee to Protect Journalists. (2012, January 25). Uzbek editor sentenced to jail while still in prison. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from Committee to Protect Journalists: https://www.cpj.org/2012/01/days-before-his-release-jailed-uzbek-editor-given.php

Fitzpatrick, C. (2011, November 28). Uzbekistan: Karimov’s nephwe released from psychiatric prison? Retrieved March 16, 2013, from Eurasianet: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64588

Freedom House. (2012). Uzbekistan: Freedom of the Press 2012. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2012/uzbekistan

Freedom House. (2012). Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/special-reports/worst-worst-2012-worlds-most-repressive-societies

Kendzior, S. (2012, February 23). Censorship as performance art: Uzbekistan’s bizarre Wikipedia ban. Retrieved March 16, 2013, from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/02/censorship-as-performance-art-uzbekistans-bizarre-wikipedia-ban/253485/

Pannier, B. (2009, December 27). Uzbek Elections Mean Little, But More Entertaining This Time. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/Uzbek_Elections_Mean_Little_But_More_Entertaining_This_Time/1914402.html

Pannier, B. (2010). Uzbekistan. Retrieved February 26, 2013, from Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2010/uzbekistan

Radio Free Europe. (2012, December 06). Uzbekistan Urged to Release Political Prisoners. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from Radio Free Europe : http://www.rferl.org/content/uzbekistan-urged-to-free-political-prisoners/24791178.html

Reorters without Borders. (2012, April 04). Wave of cases of persecution of independent journalists in recent weeks. Retrieved March 13, 2013, from Reporters Without Borders: http://en.rsf.org/uzbekistan-wave-of-cases-of-persecution-of-04-04-2012,42251.html

Reporters Without Borders. (2013). 2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed Hopes After Spring. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from Reporters Without Borders: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

Transparency International. (2012). Uzbekistan. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/country#UZB

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