Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The government maintained its tight grip on the press in 2006 as it continued to systematically attack media freedoms. Uzbek authorities do not respect freedom of speech or of the press, despite nominal constitutional guarantees. A number of ambiguously phrased statutes broadly prohibited incitement of religious or ethnic strife and statements advocating the subversion or overthrow of the constitutional order. A new media resolution in 2006 tightened a system of laws that already allowed penalties of up to five years in prison for publicly criticizing the president. Aside from this new resolution, the legal situation for the media, though restrictive, remained largely unchanged from previous years.
After domestic unrest in 2005, the Uzbek authorities undertook a concerted campaign against foreign-funded media, and in 2006 the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America remained unable to broadcast from within Uzbekistan. A resolution passed in 2006 by the government, aimed at shutting down criticisms published abroad, stressed that foreign correspondents were forbidden “to insult the honor and dignity of Uzbek citizens, [or] to interfere in their personal lives.” It also expressly forbade native Uzbeks from working for foreign outlets that had not been accredited by the government.
Although there was little independent media activity left in the wake of the government’s repressive efforts in 2005, harassment continued in 2006. In January, rights activist Saidjahon Zainabiddinov was reportedly sentenced to a seven-year prison term for speaking with foreign journalists about the Uzbek security services’ violent suppression of the May 2005 Andijan uprising. Several other journalists were stripped of their accreditation, deported, or fired because of criticisms of the government while the independent news website tribune-uz.info was shut down following direct harassment. In October, a court sentenced independent journalist Ulughbek Haydarov to a six-year prison term for extortion, but he was released in November. He had reported on local government corruption. Sobirdjon Yakubov, a journalist with the newspaper Hurriyat who had been jailed in 2005 after calling for democratic reforms, was released in April and allowed to return to work.
There are no private publishing houses or printing presses, and the establishment of new periodicals is subject to political approval. The government in 2006 continued to control national dailies and television stations, which routinely denounced foreign-funded media as aggressors in an “information war” against Uzbekistan and portrayed Western-style democratization as a plot to undermine Uzbek identity. Virtually all media were controlled either directly or indirectly by the state and the government continues to use them to present a positive distortion of the reality in the country, with occasional forays into carefully controlled criticism. With foreign-funded broadcast media barred from the country, the internet was a critical source of information, and a number of exiled Uzbek journalists were able to operate news sites from abroad with a focus on rights issues. However, only 3.3 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2006, and consistent reports indicated that the authorities tried to block critical news and opposition sites, although some remained available through proxy servers. An Uzbek court in January 2006 suspended Freedom House’s operations in the country, finding that the group had provided internet access without a license.