Freedom Survey: Central Asia Still Home to “Worst of the Worst”
When it comes to assessments of political rights and civil liberties in Uzbekistan and neighboring Turkmenistan, it often feels like someone has taped down the repeat button.
Of 195 countries assessed in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 report, released January 19, both received the lowest score possible, again: 7 out of 7. Once more, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan made the list of the “worst of the worst,” an exclusive club of nine countries where citizens can count on essentially zero accountability from their leaders. In terms of rights and liberties, both nations have remained eerily consistent: Turkmenistan is holding a presidential election next month where we already know the winner; Uzbekistan continues to jail and torture critics; leaders in both continue to show an occasional distaste for reality.
Overall, Central Asia received little mention in this year’s report, which focused mostly on the Arab uprisings. Kyrgyzstan is the only nation in the region that Freedom House classifies as “partly free”; the rest are all “not free.” (“A not free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.”) The report flagged Kazakhstan as a country of concern “due to new legislation restricting public expression of religious belief and the right to form religious organizations,” and the recent police shootings of unarmed protestors in Zhanaozen: “Violent labor unrest in Kazakhstan should remind the world that repression does not in fact lead to stability.”
Full country reports are due out in about a month. Meanwhile, a read of last year’s Uzbekistan report suggests there will be few surprises from that “worst” country:
Uzbekistan’s government continued to suppress all political opposition and restrict independent business activity in 2010, and the few remaining civic activists and critical journalists in the country faced prosecution, fines, and lengthy prison terms. Nevertheless, the regime maintained relatively good relations with the United States and Europe as it provided logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Sound familiar? … The 2011 Turkmenistan report promises a similar taste of déjà vu. According to the 2012 report’s authors, Central Asia is distinguished in at least one new way this year: “Whereas prior to 2011 the ‘president for life’ phenomenon was principally associated with the Middle East, it is today more likely to apply to the long-term leaders of the former Soviet Union.”