Press Freedom Day

by Nathan Hamm on 5/3/2005 · 1 comment

Though one would typically expect me to steer clear of bringing up UN-declared anything, today is Press Freedom Day and RFE/RL has a large collection of stories on press freedom across Eurasia and beyond.

It’s not news to say that the press enjoys little freedom in Central Asia, but there are a handful of signs that the situation is growing worse since protests toppled Askar Akayev’s government in Kyrgyzstan. In Uzbekistan, 22 year old Sabirjon Yakubov was arrested for “undermining the constitutional regime and Irina Petrusheva, editor of a Kazakh opposition weekly, was arrested in Russia at Kazakhstan’s request (she has since been released). RFE/RL quotes a representative of RSF as saying that the pressure on journalists may lead them to believe they have nothing to lose and become more openly hostile.

“I don’t know exactly if journalists are ready to fight and to make a revolution. But I think the mentality is changing. If there is a serious violation of press freedom, for example a [journalist’s] murder, I think it could be a beginning to make demonstrations, to take on the streets and to react very strongly.”

The case of Yoqubov in Uzbekistan may be a test case. The journalist’s colleagues at “Hurriyat” have vowed to continue to fight on his behalf, and journalism students at the Tashkent State University of World Languages plan to write a letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov asking him to release Yoqubov. The situation is perhaps the first time that journalists from a semigovernment newspaper and students from a state university have stood against the authorities in an effort to defend media freedom.

Another RFE/RL story notes that the internet is becoming more important in Central Asia. It is still inaccessible to most, but to well-educated, tech-savvy elites and young city-dwellers, it is a very effective means of communication. During the protests in Kyrgyzstan, I found this to be extremely evident as members of youth organizations and NGOs sent flurries of messages over mailing lists and online forums. Kyrgyz websites were attacked, limiting access to local news and political websites. Web censorship is far from widespread in Central Asia.

Daniil Kislov, the founder of the Russia-based Internet information agency, says censorship in Uzbekistan usually targets certain pages. “They don’t block the whole site, for example access to the addresses, or,” he said. “What they decide to block — most likely the authorities — are individual articles they consider as being on the opposition side, or a threat to the constitutional order, or against the state. However you [must judge whether] any of the sites have such purposes.”

RFE/RL has an overview of press freedom over the past year as well.

P.S. This seems like as good a time as any to remind readers that is in the running for an award from Reporters Without Borders. If you think we deserve it and haven’t voted yet, you can do so here. The rest of the categories can be found at the award’s main page.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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