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RSF slams government for lack of press freedom

Flag of Turkmenistan.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) gave a scathing review of Turkmenistan's press freedom record, describing it as the worst in Central Asia and one of the world's top 10 offenders. "This is one of the worst countries in the world," Caroline Giraud, an RSF researcher for the former Soviet republics, told IRIN from Paris. "There is essentially no press freedom in Turkmenistan today. There is absolutely no independent press." Her comments coincide with the release on Monday of RSF's second world press-freedom ranking. Like last year, the most catastrophic situation was found to be in Asia, with eight countries in the bottom 10: North Korea, Burma, Laos, China, Iran, Vietnam, Bhutan and Turkmenistan. Independent news media were either nonexistent in these countries, or were constantly repressed by the authorities. Journalists there worked in extremely difficult conditions, with no freedom and no security. A number of them were imprisoned in Burma, China and Iran, a statement by the watchdog group said. Of the 166 countries cited in the survey, with North Korea being the worst at 166, Turkmenistan ranked 158, making it by far the worst of the five Central Asian nations, followed by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. To compile the ranking, RSF asked journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists to fill out a questionnaire evaluating respect for press freedom in a particular country. But, according to Giraud, unlike its neighbours, the case of Turkmenistan was in a category on its own. "Maybe we don't have many cases of censorship or reports of journalists being arrested, but such instances only happen in a country struggling to establish an independent press - something that clearly isn't happening in Turkmenistan," she maintained, adding: "It's a country where nothing really moves." "People don't even have the right to write what they think," she asserted. And while things in neighbouring Uzbekistan were hardly much better, coming in at 154 in terms of ranking, making it easily one of the worst, the situation in terms of press freedom was in fact slightly better in this, Central Asia's most populous, state. "It's a bit different in Uzbekistan. Journalists are a bit freer and there are a few media outlets that - while not free - might employ some journalists that might risk a little more in their writing," Giraud explained.
[Kyrgyzstan] Everywhere on the streets of Bishkek people van be seen reading "Curbing this freedom now will be difficult to do".
Press freedom remains a source of concern throughout Central Asia
She noted, however, numerous examples of harassment and arrests of journalists, most specifically the case of Ruslan Sharipov who, having written extensively about government corruption and improprieties, had been incarcerated on charges of homosexuality. "That's a very symbolic case, highlighting the very essence of the problem of press freedom in Uzbekistan," she said. "He was one of the few journalists in that country actually voicing out the problems of the country. "On these kinds of issues, I'm afraid Uzbekistan fares very poorly. Sadly, he [Sharipov] is not the only one in jail," she added. This, despite official declarations last year that official censorship no longer existed. "We see the facts, and the facts tell us there is no press freedom in Uzbekistan." Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, rated at 138, 114 and 104 respectively, fared only slightly better, given what RSF described as only a marginally more developed independent media environment. "We see more trials for defamation there. It's a different criteria altogether." As for why the Central Asian states, which gained their independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, featured so badly in this year's report, Giraud placed responsibility squarely at the doorstep of their authoritarian rulers. "The people who lead these countries don't want to be criticised. They have yet to develop a sense of democracy, and that's what press freedom is all about." [For a complete listing of RSF press-freedom ranking see: www.rsf.org]

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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