The journalism watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has called on the European Union to press for greater media freedom as it forges closer economic ties with nations in Central Asia.
"Despite the pluralism of Kyrgyz media, which appears exceptional in the region, the situation of media freedom is bleak overall in Central Asia," Christophe Deloire, the group's secretary-general, said in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who attended a meeting with Central Asian foreign ministers in Samarkand on November 10.
"Year after year, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan are all ranked near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, and authoritarian tendencies are on the rise," he said.
"News website blocking and Russian-inspired laws to curtail free expression are spreading, while journalists are often subject to torture and unlawful imprisonment," he said.
In Turmenistan, "the state maintains full control over the media and the Internet" and "persecution of the few remaining independent journalists has intensified," he said.
In Uzbekistan, "at least five journalists continue to be detained despite recent signs of openness and the release of several prominent detainees," Deloire said.
In Kazakhstan, "the main opposition national newspapers were all banned in 2013" and "the remaining few are collapsing under the impact of fines... Journalists are often arrested and the Internet is now closely controlled," he said.
Meanwhile, "the press freedom situation has deteriorated dramatically" in Tajikistan, with "the closure of several independent media outlets and the adoption of a decree reinforcing state control over...broadcast media," he said.
Although the situation in Kyrgystan is "better" than elsewhere, Deloire said, media there are facing increased challenges, including costly defamation lawsuits and self-censorship on sensitive issues like ethnic relations.
"Fostering greater respect for media freedom will help to increase the effectiveness of the EU’s cooperation with Central Asian countries in the areas of security and the economy," Deloire said.