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Article 19: Freedom of opinion and expression and to seek, receive and impart information


Case Study: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN UZBEKISTAN
  • The right to freedom of expression is obstructed all over the world.
  • In Uzbekistan, political and religious freedom are severely restricted and the media is controlled by the state. Critics say the state uses intimidation and torture to assure compliance.

Context

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is regarded by many people, particularly in the West, as the forerunner of all human rights.

It has been said that there can be no true democracy without freedom of expression. However, this freedom is threatened in many regions in the world.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Uzbekistan and Albania are among a wide group of countries which consistently restrict the freedom of expression and opinion to varying degrees. Although these countries are gradually democratising, vestiges of their authoritarian past remain.

The media in these countries is highly restricted. Human Rights Watch reported in 2002 that journalists are often prevented from writing about a variety of issues, including government corruption.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is one of the most authoritarian countries in the former USSR. Since its independence in 1989, Uzbekistan has been run almost single-handedly by President Islam Karimov.

There is no real political opposition inside the country, there is a lack of religious freedom and the media is tightly controlled by the state.

The government claims that the restriction of freedom of expression is necessary to thwart the threat posed by radical Islamist groups based in Tajikistan and elsewhere, who allegedly want to overthrow the current regime and set up an Islamic state.

As a result, all Islamic political parties have been banned.

Peaceful independent Muslims have also been targeted by the government and portrayed as extremists.

Local human rights groups estimate that 7,000 independent Muslims are currently in prison in Uzbekistan for being Muslim.

Officially, the Uzbek constitution bans censorship and guarantees freedom of the press. In practice, however, the government controls the media and journalists are frequently threatened, arrested and tortured.

Advocates Targeted

Human rights workers are also targeted.

In 2001, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) sent an open letter to President Karimov to ask him to investigate the death of Shovrik Ruzimuradov of the Society for Human Rights of Uzbekistan (SHRU).

Mr Ruzimuradov allegedly died in police custody as a result of torture. Authorities had eartlier searched his house, where they said they found leaflets and literature of the banned Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir and gun cartridges.

Reform

However, pressure by the international community has moderated government policy.

In 2002, the government officially recognised the country's first fully independent human rights organisation, the Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan.

It also altered its censorship policy by eliminating the practice of pre-publication censorship through the Committee for the Protection of State Secrets.

In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch lamented that the reforms were minimal. It noted that additional human rights groups have not been recognised by the government and that the media was still censored by newspaper editors.

Ever since the United States included Uzbekistan in its coalition for the war against terrorism, international criticism of Uzbekistan appears to have decreased somewhat, say human rights activists.