162 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 447.400 sq. km.
Head of state: Islam Karimov, since March 1990
Foreign media have been gradually expelled from the country since the bloody crackdown on the Andijan uprising, in the Ferghana valley in the east of the country in May 2005. The Uzbek press is in the direct or indirect control of the ruling clans, starting with that of President Islam Karimov. The Internet is also under close surveillance and independent news websites are blocked. A new law came into force in 2006, forcing journalists from foreign media wanting to work in Uzbekistan to apply for foreign ministry accreditation. It is extremely difficult to get but it is impossible to obtain official information without this precious piece of paper. The law also punishes journalists for “interference in internal affairs” as well as “insulting the dignity of citizens”. Moreover the law bans any cooperation with an unaccredited journalist under threat of legal proceedings.
Eight journalists are currently in prison in Uzbekistan, one of them, Djamshid Karimov, the head of state’s nephew, has been held in a psychiatric hospital against his will for more than two and a half years.
Despite this damning state of affairs, the European Union, as a result of a German initiative, has begun a process of rapprochement with Uzbekistan and voted for an easing of sanctions imposed after the Andijan massacres. The release of human rights defenders, such as Mutabar Tadjibaeva, in June 2008 has regularly been used to justify this new direction.
Also in June, correspondents for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were publicly called traitors on a state-run television channel. Their identity, accompanied by photos and their addresses along with schools attended by their children were also made public. These accusations were particularly disturbing given that journalist Alisher Sayipov, who was shot dead in Osh, Kyrgyzstan in October 2007, had also been termed a traitor by official media shortly before his death. A second forum gathering representatives of the EU and Uzbekistan took place in October at the very moment when journalist Solidzhon Abdurakhmanov, a contributor to many independent media and websites, was being sentenced to ten years in prison, silencing one of the very few independent voices in Karakalpakstan in the west of the country. This was not enough to prevent the EU from agreeing a six-month extension to the lifting of sanctions.
The crackdown continued without faltering in the first quarter of 2009. Two independent journalists were arrested in February and in March the five founders of the scientific magazine Irmok were sentenced to between five and 12 years in prison. The magazine itself has been banned a few months previously. The five journalists are members of religious organisation, Nurcular, which is banned inside the country.