A human rights dialogue between Ashgabat and Brussels has failed to clarify why journalist Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was detained two weeks ago.
Yazmuhamedov, 30, a correspondent with Radio Free Europe’s Turkmen Service (Azatlyk Radiosy) was detained May 6 on undisclosed charges. He remains in custody where he faces a "grave risk of torture," according to Amnesty International.
Ahead of the Turkmen-EU talks last week, Human Rights Watch called on Ashgabat to "immediately free or credibly charge" the journalist. “We are deeply concerned that the authorities arrested Rovshen Yazmuhamedov because of his work as a journalist,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Turkmen government doesn’t tolerate public criticism of its policies, no matter how mild.”
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) on May 17 that at a meeting with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat on May 15 the EU human rights delegation expressed concern over Yazmuhamedov’s detention.
State television in Uzbekistan has launched an attack on regional print and broadcast journalists in the Ferghana Valley for allegedly blackmailing entrepreneurs.
This week, O’zbekiston TV’s Oramizdagi Olgirlar (“Scroungers Among Us”) described cases of alleged extortion involving journalists from Namangan and Andijan regions. The report – posted on the station’s website on March 14 – featured interviews with alleged victims and other journalists condemning the "scroungers.”
"Such sleazy people should not be working in this profession," veteran journalist Gulomjon Akbarov said.
The 35-minute program pointed the finger at a magazine called Vatan Kozgusi (“Mirror of the Motherland”), alleging its journalists used fake press cards bearing the logos of international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It then cheered a court’s decision to jail the magazine’s chief editor, Ravshon Jumayev, for 10 ½ years for allegedly distributing his publication without registration. (The report did not mention him in connection with the blackmail allegations.)
EurasiaNet.org can find no reference to Jumayev elsewhere in the Uzbek press. Still, some Uzbek journalists may feel a bit threatened by the tale. Critical journalists have a tendency to disappear behind bars in Uzbekistan, a country that placed 164 out of 179 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 Press Freedom Index.
Behind closed doors, this week a Tajik court ruled in a controversial libel case. To no one’s surprise the plaintiff – the son of a high-ranking government official – won. That Tajikistan’s rich and powerful use courts to bully the media is nothing new, but, this time, the process has exposed Tajiks’ apparently widespread hatred for their country’s judiciary.
In 2010, Rustam Khukumov was sentenced to almost 10 years in a Russian prison, charged, along with three other Tajik nationals, with possessing nine kilos of heroin.
Khukumov is the son of the powerful head of Tajikistan’s railway boss, Amonullo Khukumov. The senior Khukumov is an ally and relative of the Tajik strongman, President Emomali Rakhmon (Khukumov is father-in-law to Rakhmon’s daughter). Could that have anything to do with why the Khukumov scion was released early, under murky circumstances, only a year into his jail term?
For asking that question, the weekly “Imruz News” now owes Khukumov over $10,500 in “moral damages,” a Dushanbe court ruled on February 25. The paper vows to appeal, which means more embarrassing attention on Khukumov.
Following the adoption of Turkmenistan's first-ever media law earlier this year, Ashgabat appears to be inching toward the liberalization of its restrictive media market. But are the changes worth more than the paper they’re printed on?
Russia's Regnum news agency reports that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – who likes to be called “The Protector” – has withdrawn his protection from most of the country's newspapers, which he used to own single-handedly. That’s because the new media law, which the president signed on January 4, bans the “monopolization of the media.”
Turkmenistan has long languished at the bottom of global media freedom rankings, so observers like Reporters Without Borders, the watchdog, feel a legal ban on media censorship means little.
Berdymukhamedov isn’t going too far. The country's Russian-language mouthpieces, “Turkmenistan” and “Neutral Turkmenistan,” may have acquired a new owner – The Cabinet of Ministers – but the president heads the Cabinet. “Nesil” (Young Generation) will now be published by the Magtymguly youth organization, “Watan” (Homeland) by a trade union, and “Mugallymlar Gazeti” (Teacher's Newspaper) by the Ministry of Education. Of course, these bodies are all loyal to the president, who wields absolute authority. And in case any journalist gets too many crazy ideas, all appointments at all media outlets are done by presidential decree, says Regnum.
The outspoken Respublika newspaper has lost an appeal against a publishing ban.
On February 8, a judge in Almaty upheld a December ruling that Respublika and all print editions and websites associated with it would be closed down, the newspaper reported in an article posted on a Facebook page where it continues placing material.
The closure aimed to “introduce censorship, which in Kazakhstan is banned under the Constitution and the law on the media,” Tatyana Trubacheva, the newspaper’s former editor, argued in court.
She was speaking the day after being fined by an Almaty court for publishing another newspaper, Ripablik, which staff from the newspaper have been putting out with a circulation of just 99 copies to circumvent registration requirements.
The court found Trubacheva guilty of infringing the publishing ban, though she argued that Ripablik was a new outlet that did not exist when the original ban was imposed on December 25. Respublika has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities, changing its name to get around legal bans.
Trubacheva is listed as the Ripablik newspaper’s “reader in chief,” a tactic to prevent her from being accused of being the editor. That led to a surreal exchange with the judge during her trial, shown in a video posted on YouTube by the Koz Ashu (Open the Eye) video project.
Authorities in Tajikistan have ordered Internet service providers, again, to block access to Facebook, local news agencies report. The blocking orders (which this time also target the local service of Radio Liberty) have become so familiar in the past year that there’s little new to say. So let’s look at how the man in charge of Internet access has explained his thinking in recent months.
Last March, the head of the communications service, Beg Zukhurov, after denying any order to block Facebook, said his office had actually blocked the site for “prophylactic maintenance.”
Internet service providers have said they were ordered to block Facebook last weekend, along with three or four news portals, by the state communications service, after one of the portals published an article severely criticizing [President Emomali] Rakhmon and his government. When queried by news agency Asia-Plus, the head of the service, Beg Zukhurov, denied any order to block Facebook, but said the authors of offensive online content “defaming the honor and dignity of the Tajik authorities” should be made “answerable.” Tajikistan frequently uses libel cases and extremism charges to silence critical journalists.
In November, Zukhurov again flipped the switch and memorably called Facebook a “hotbed of slander” when he sought a meeting with the social network’s founder and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg.
"Does Facebook have an owner? Can he come to Tajikistan? I'd meet him during visiting hours. If he does not have time, I'd talk to his assistants,” the BBC’s Russian service quoted Zukhurov as saying. (Zukhurov's visiting hours are Saturday's from 10am to noon.)
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is the latest demi-celebrity to find himself embroiled in a Kazakhstan-related controversy. The widely celebrated creator of the non-profit, freely editable website closed a Wikipedia discussion on December 21, 18 hours after a user asked Wales to explain his upcoming visit to Kazakhstan in connection with Wikibilim, a local NGO working to develop the Kazakh-language Wikipedia.
“As far as I know, the Wikibilim organization is not politicized,” replied Wales. He maintained his belief that there are “no particularly difficult issues” with neutrality in the Kazakh-language Wikipedia, and promised to stress press freedom and openness during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.
The exchange is raising questions, again, about the Kazakh government’s efforts to control Wikipedia content. But it also points to a fundamental problem in the Wikipedia movement – source material.
One user, PhnomPencil, noted that Wikibilim received, according to another Wikipedia entry, 30 million tenge ($200,000) from the state investment fund Samruk-Kazyna in 2011 “for editing, digitalization, and author rights transfer.” PhnomPencil questions Wales’ connection to a group that appears close to the authoritarian government, and asks whether the Kazakh-language Wikipedia has been hijacked by Astana's paid propagandists.
A court in Kazakhstan has banned the outspoken independent newspaper Respublika, amid what critics see as a year-long political crackdown following fatal unrest in the town of Zhanaozen last December that has seen an opposition leader jailed, his party shut down, and media outlets critical of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed.
On December 25 the court ordered Respublika to shut down its print version and all associated print outlets and websites containing the word “Respublika,” Almaty-based media freedom watchdog Adil Soz reported. The ruling was issued four days after a key opposition party, Alga!, was closed.
Respublika – which has long operated under pressure in Kazakhstan, and once had the corpse of a decapitated dog pinned to its wall as an apparent threat – was among around 40 media outlets targeted for closure by prosecutors who allege their coverage of the Zhanaozen unrest was “extremist” and contained calls to overthrow the state. Prosecutors say the outlets are funded by fugitive oligarch and Nazarbayev opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov (who is on the run from British justice in a separate fraud case).
When the liberal daily Taraf was launched some five years ago, it was presented as prime evidence of how much Turkey has moved forward. Staffed with muckraking journalists who were especially committed to exposing the misdeeds of Turkey's powerful military, the scrappy newspaper truly did break new ground, covering stories that most of the Turkish mainstream media stayed away from for fear of crossing the powers that be.
Five years later, Taraf might be put forward as prime evidence of how much Turkey is slipping backwards, particularly in terms of press freedom issues. On Dec. 14, Taraf's top two editors -- Ahmet Altan, a vocal critic of the government, and Yasemin Congar, as well as two leading columnists -- resigned from the newspaper, effectively stripping it of some of its most powerful voices. The reasons for the resignations were not immediately given, but they came at a time when Taraf was facing increasing pressure from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and some of its supporters after the newspaper started turning a critical eye towards how the government was managing Turkey's affairs.
Writing in Today's Zaman, veteran journalist and media observer Yavuz Baydar describes the role Taraf played in recent years:
Authorities in Uzbekistan have instructed television executives to keep the local version of Santa Claus off the airwaves this holiday season, the Associated Press reports.
Throughout the former Soviet Union, the robed Father Frost – Ded Moroz as he’s known in Russian – is the beloved figure who appears with gifts on New Year’s Eve, a entirely secular holiday.
Independent news website UzMetronom reported Monday that President Islam Karimov's authoritarian government imposed the informal ban on Father Frost and his snow maiden sidekick. […]
The ban is similar to the semiofficial 2005 ban on celebrating New Year's Eve.
It all looks like part of Karimov’s ongoing effort to shield his 30 million people from any foreign influences, and invent an entirely Uzbek "culture." As part of the campaign, high school students are subjected to lectures on "Uzbek national values," which demand they to submit to authorities.
In March, legislators, acting out of concern for children's “moral health,” mulled a vague ban on foreign toys that did not conform to these "national values." And earlier this year Karimov's government called off Valentine’s Day:
Uzbekistan has cancelled concerts marking the holiday and instructed young people instead to celebrate the birthday of a local hero—Moghul emperor Babur, who was born in Andijan in 1483 and conquered much of South Asia. The Associated Press recently cited an Uzbek newspaper article calling Valentine's Day the work of “forces with evil goals bent on putting an end to national values.”