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Afghanistan Registers Major Rise In Press-Freedom Index

A man holds a banner during a rally to mark World Press Freedom Day in Tbilisi on May 3.
Afghanistan has climbed 22 places in this year's Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

However Johann Bihr, head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, tells RFE/RL that the country continues to face many challenges.

"The rise of Afghanistan is indeed mostly linked with the fact that no journalists were killed due to their journalistic activities in 2012, and arrests of media workers declined. But by no means does this mean that Afghanistan is now in a perfect situation,"

"The country remains ranked 128th out of 179, and obviously it will face fresh challenges with the withdrawal of foreign troops from the international coalition and the deteriorating situation in neighboring Pakistan."

Bihr says that in neighboring Pakistan (159th), the high level of violence against journalists and Internet users last year had a significant impact on the country's poor performance.

The Paris-based press watchdog says Iran (174th) imprisons journalists and Internet users and also harasses their relatives.

Neighboring Iraq placed 150th.

In Southeastern Europe, Serbia (63th) has climbed 17 places. The country is followed by Croatia (64th), Bosnia-Herzegovina (68th), Kosovo (85th), and Montenegro (113rd).

RWB says Macedonia (116th) has fallen 22 places following the "arbitrary withdrawal of media licenses and deterioration in the environment for journalists."

In the former Soviet Union, Bihr says Russia (148th) has lost six places because of stepped-up repression there.

"It has been a bad year overall for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Overall, the region is really sinking downwards towards the real bottom of the index," Bihr notes.

"Russia has set a tone of increased repression in the former Soviet Union by cracking down on the opposition protests; by adopting fresh repressive laws impacting freedom of information such as recriminalization of defamation; the creation of a blacklist of filtered websites on the Internet; not to mention the provisions criminalizing the activities of some NGOs."

Ukraine was placed 126th and Belarus 157th.

In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia ranked 156th, 100th, and 74th, respectively.

In Kyrgyzstan, the best performer of Central Asia, Bihr says difficulties remain:

"Kyrgyzstan now ranks 106th in the Press Freedom Index, which is by far the best performance of Central Asia, but of course difficulties still remain for independent journalists, especially the independence of media outlets remains under question," he explains

"The politicization and polarization of the media landscape is high. There are still worrying issues with hate speech, especially directed at ethnic minorities."

Bihr says Tajikistan (123rd) "still has, to some extent, some degree of pluralism." But he adds that the country is "struggling to catch up with its neighbors in terms of cybercensorship."

According to Bihr, Kazakhstan (160th) is the Central Asian country that has been "characterized by the worst trend" last year. He says President Nursultan Nazarbaev appears to be moving "closer and closer to the ultraauthoritarian rule of his Uzbek neighbor."

In Uzbekistan (164th), Bihr says, the regime of President Islam Karimov has "tightened his grip on the Internet."

Turkmenistan (177th) remains this year one of the world's three worst offenders in terms of press freedom.

Bihr says no independent or opposition media is allowed in the country, where "journalists and bloggers continued to be able to report independently only under cover."

With reporting by Daisy Sindelar
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