Freedom of the Press
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Although the law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government generally does not respect these rights in practice. The law limits criticism of the president, and public insult to the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Citizens did not criticize the president or the government on television or in the print press. The law also specifically prohibits articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.
In 2005, after a bout of domestic unrest, Uzbekistan began an unprecedented attack on Western-funded media. The unrest began on the night of May 12, when armed men seized a prison in Andijon, freed inmates, and took over a government building in the city center. On May 13, several thousand residents gathered in the city center for a demonstration to protest social and economic problems. The government used massive force to quell the protest and retake the city. Eyewitness accounts of independent journalists and international organizations indicated that the indiscriminate use of force killed hundreds. The government claimed a death toll of 187 in a clash with religious extremists and took harsh action against any media outlet that contradicted the official version of events. President Islam Karimov set the tone in the wake of Andijon, alleging that Uzbekistan was under "information attack" by hostile foreign powers. Uzbek authorities imposed a news blackout on Andijon during the unrest, detaining and expelling local and foreign correspondents from the city, cutting off broadcasts by foreign media within Uzbekistan, and blocking internet sites. Virtually all local media are controlled either directly or indirectly by the state, and the government used them to promote its version of events and smear independent outlets.
Physical attacks took place as well. On May 28, an Andijon resident led Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Gofurjon Yoldoshev to a mass grave in Andijon; the next day, Yoldoshev's guide was found stabbed to death. In June, Tolqin Qorayev, a correspondent for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was attacked and detained; he fled Uzbekistan in July. His colleague, Galima Bukharbayeva, was also forced to flee the country, and IWPR shut down its offices in Uzbekistan. Lobar Qaynarova, an RFE/RL correspondent in the third trimester of her pregnancy, was brutally beaten in July. In August, Igor Rotar, a Russian correspondent for the Norway-based religious freedom organization Forum 18, was detained upon arrival at the airport in Tashkent and expelled from Uzbekistan. The same month, a court convicted two Uzbek employees of Internews, a U.S.-based media training organization; and in September, another court decision closed Internews altogether. Nosir Zokir, an RFE/RL correspondent in Namangan, received a six-month prison sentence in August for allegedly insulting a member of the security services. In October, citing government harassment, the BBC closed its Tashkent bureau and evacuated six of its local employees. In December, the Justice Ministry stripped RFE/RL of its accreditation, effectively closing its Tashkent bureau.
There are no private publishing houses or printing presses, and the establishment of a new newspaper is subject to political approval. The government continued to control national dailies and television stations, which carried a constant stream of materials denouncing Western-funded media as aggressors in an "information war" against Uzbekistan. In the September trial of 15 men accused of active involvement in the Andijon unrest, prosecutors charged that the BBC, IWPR, and RFE/RL had advance knowledge that violence would break out in the city. State-controlled media gave prominent coverage to these unsubstantiated charges. With foreign-funded broadcast media under attack in Uzbekistan, the internet became a critical source of information. However, the total number of internet users is still below 1 million (in a country of over 26 million), and consistent reports indicate that the authorities try to block news sites with critical information as well as opposition sites, although some of these are available through proxy servers.