Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is using the occasion of today's European Union-Central Asian security summit in Paris to highlight the lack of press freedom in Central Asia, especially in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
RSF says Europe should not discuss efforts to combat terrorism or drug trafficking at the summit without also raising human rights issues. Toward that end, the Paris-based media watchdog is staging a protest
at the Turkmen Embassy in Paris today to highlight their concerns.
RSF official Elsa Vidal spoke by telephone with RFE/RL today as she and other activists were occupying the office of the Turkmen ambassador to France. (See RFE/RL slideshow of the embassy protest.)
"At the beginning," Vidal told our Turkmen Service, "we were skeptical of the EU strategy of building a dialogue with dictatorships in Central Asia. But we have seen that some states might be [reached]. And anyway, we want to use every possibility, so what we want is that each time they [meet], they do bring up the question of human rights."
Vidal noted that a few political prisoners and dissidents have been released in Uzbekistan in the past few months, following European and U.S. pressure. "And that's a good thing," she said. "But while they were doing so, they were at the same very moment arresting other journalists and they tortured them. So it's a very strange period."
We were skeptical of the EU strategy of building a dialogue with dictatorships in Central Asia. But we have seen that some [objectives] might be achieved.
In a statement, the group says a "high price" is paid in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan "for any attempts at independent or critical reporting. Arrests, violence, and harassment of journalists and their families are the methods habitually used by the authorities whenever they are criticized."
RSF notes that no proper investigation has yet been launched into the death in 2006 of right activist Ogulsapar Muradova
, who was also a correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. She died, RSF says, "from blows she received in prison while serving a six-year sentence for helping a French TV journalist to prepare a report."
Two other activists -- Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev -- were arrested at the same time as Muradova and were also sentenced to six or seven years in prison. There has been no news of either of them.
In Uzbekistan, journalists and government opponents continue to be harassed
Solijon Abdurakhmanov, a correspondent for the news website uznews.net, has been held in the western city of Nukus since June 7. His trial, on spurious drug-trafficking charges, began on September 12. He faces 20 years in jail.
As for the other three Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan
ranked 125th out of 169 countries in the 2007 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index; Kyrgyzstan
ranked 110th; and Tajikistan
ranked 115th. Both Uzbekistan
(160th) and Turkmenistan
(167th) were in the last 10.