Central Asia Performs Dismally (Again) in Media Freedom Ranking
More bad news for journalists in Central Asia: An international ranking by Washington-based watchdog Freedom House has shown the region's five former Soviet states performing dismally when it comes to protecting press freedom. All five fall into Freedom of the Press 2012’s "Not Free" category. Two, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are singled out (not for the first time) as among the world’s worst abusers of press freedoms. These two authoritarian states languish at the bottom of Freedom House’s ranking of 197 countries: Reclusive Turkmenistan stands at 196 (beaten to last place by North Korea); Uzbekistan hovers at 195.In these two countries “independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression,” the report says.The media situation in Kazakhstan, which has a handful of independent domestic outlets and allows foreign journalists to work, is somewhat less restricted. Nevertheless, Freedom House singles it out as among “countries of special concern,” alongside Russia and Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan ranked 175th, tying with Ethiopia and The Gambia.Kazakhstan has witnessed several high-profile media controversies recently, including a brutal attack on journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov in April and the detention of Vzglyad newspaper editor Igor Vinyavskiy in January on suspicion of anti-constitutional activities (he was freed under amnesty in March). Tajikistan didn’t fare well either, ranking just above Kazakhstan in 171st place. Dushanbe’s most memorable contribution to press freedom over the last year was to put a BBC reporter on trial for alleged extremist activity. Urunboy Usmonov, who said he had been in contact with a banned organization in order to report on it, was found guilty in October and given a three-year jail sentence but released under amnesty after an international outcry. Kyrgyzstan managed to outstrip its neighbors as Central Asia’s best performer, placing 155st. Yet it still trailed near the bottom of the table in the same place as last year. Bishkek failed to build on its success when (in the wake of the overthrow of autocratic Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010) Freedom House singled it out as showing small improvements.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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