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Central Asia: RFE/RL Speaks With Media Monitor About Press Freedom

RFE/RL's empty office in Tashkent after authorities withdrew its accreditation. (RFE/RL) The Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 4 January released its annual global survey of press freedom, in which it reported that 63 journalists were killed in 2005 and some 1,300 were physically attacked. The same day, RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Muhammad Tahir spoke with the head of the organization's post-Soviet section (who has since requested that we not use her name) about press freedom issues in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Listen to the complete interview in RealAudio or Windows Media .

RFE/RL: During 2005, some 63 journalists were killed and 1,000 were attacked. What was the most dangerous zone for journalists in 2005?

RSF: The most dangerous zone in the world for journalists that year was probably without any doubt Iraq, because of the war. Many, many journalists were killed there.

RFE/RL: Were there any incidents reported from Turkmenistan?

RSF: We know that this year a Russian journalist from the state press agency RIA-Novosti -- his name is Viktor Panov -- and he has been accused of spying by the Turkmen authorities. He has been thrown out of the country by the authorities and he went back to Russia. It was in March 2005. There were several cases, but this is the only one that we investigated. There is very little information about what is happening in Turkmenistan because the country is quite closed. The regime of President Niyazov is very strong for the independent press and human rights defenders. The regime of the president controls entirely the country. All the media are controlled by the state and it is quite impossible for foreign journalists to get into Turkmenistan. They cannot get any visas. Their requests are rejected by the authorities and we have some journalists who told us they think there is a kind of black list for foreign journalists.

RFE/RL: In your previous reports Turkmenistan is always shown as one of the most repressive countries in the world. But what was the rank of this country in terms of media censorship for 2005?

RSF: For that year, there were no cases of censorship in Turkmenistan, as far as we were concerned. We know that Russian radio, Radio Mayak, had troubles last year. They had troubles broadcasting their programs in Turkmenistan because they have a station in Turkmenistan. They had technical problems to broadcast and the information director of the station said the Turkmen authorities wanted to sanction Radio Mayak. Radio Mayak was investigating discrimination against the Russian minority in the country, which is a problem there. So, they have been cut off from broadcasting -- it was in July last year.

RFE/RL: There is no indication that the situation regarding press freedom in Turkmenistan will get better in the coming year?

RSF: No, we don't think the situation will be better this year. Unfortunately the situation is very, very controlled. Everything is controlled by the president, who has been elected for life.

RFE/RL: In your report it shows that press freedom in Uzbekistan is also deteriorating. What was the situation in that country in 2005?

RSF: The situation in Uzbekistan is a little bit better than in Turkmenistan, but since the Andijon uprising in May 2005, the situation has been getting worse and worse for journalists working there and for freedom of the press and of expression in general. It was impossible for journalists to cover the events in Andijon. People got killed after those events, as you know, and the authorities officially recognize only 186 murdered people and actually it seems that it is probably from 500 to 1,000 people killed. So, the authorities are very afraid about a [possible] revolution in Uzbekistan and particularly an Islamist one. And that is why they try to control the media. The situation is getting worse and worse for journalists. During the year, after those terrible events, the British channel BBC got closed by the authorities. The Internews office also was closed in Uzbekistan in September of this year. And not so long ago, the Radio Free Europe local bureau lost its accreditation to work officially in the country. So, the will of the current president, Islam Karimov, to control the media is quite obvious. They don't want any voice from outside to tell the truth or to criticize the authorities.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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