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Lack Of Media Freedom In Uzbekistan

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently issued a report on the most censored countries in the world. Uzbekistan ranks among the top ten.

According to the report, Uzbek President Islam Karimov has re-established a Soviet-style dictatorship that relies on brutal political intimidation to silence journalists, human rights activists, and the political opposition. The Uzbek government uses censorship to prevent the domestic media from reporting on widespread police torture, poverty, and an Islamic opposition movement. Moreover, the report cites Uzbekistan as the leading jailer of journalists, with six in prison at the end of 2005.

A crackdown on foreign and independent media in Uzbekistan intensified after the tragic events of May 13, 2005, during which hundreds of civilians, including women and children, were reportedly shot and killed by Uzbek government forces in Andijan. Since Andijan, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty or R-F-E/R-L, and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting have been forced to close their bureaus in the capital, Tashkent. A dozen foreign correspondents and local reporters working for foreign media had to flee the country.

Nosir Zokirov is one of many Uzbek journalists imprisoned for reporting on events in Andijan. Mr. Zokirov worked for R-F-E/R-Ls Uzbek service where he conducted an interview with local poet Khaidarali Komilov, who was critical of the Uzbek government's actions in Andijan. In August 2005, Mr. Zokirov was put on trial with no access to defense counsel. He was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison. Mr. Zokirov was released in February.

President Karimov's government may be clamping down on the press and non-governmental organizations for fear of democratic movements such as those in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. But the lesson of history is clear: democratic reform can lead to true and lasting stability.

That is why the United States, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "continues to hope that the government of Uzbekistan will turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of reform."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.