Serious human rights abuses continue in some Central Asian republics and elsewhere in Eurasia. This can clearly be seen in the pressure on those in the political opposition and independent media. In Turkmenistan, on November 25th, gunmen attacked President Saparamurat Niyazov’s [sah-pah-MOOR-aht nee-ahz-ov] motorcade in Ashgabat. Since then, Turkmenistan authorities have reportedly detained more than one-hundred people, including several former government officials who are critics of Mr. Niyazov’s rule.
In a cynical misuse of the media, government-controlled television stations in Turkmenistan have been showing live broadcasts of the accused making confessions and being denounced by members of the public. But there are credible reports that these so-called confessions were obtained through torture. According to Freimut Duve [FRY-moot DOO-veh] of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, “These are the same methods that were used during the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s in the Soviet Union. The rhetoric used is often obscene and in most countries would be unprintable. There is also explicitly racist language,” said Mr. Duve.
Elsewhere in Central Asia there is also cause for concern. In Kyrgyzstan, Moya Stolitsa [my-YAH stah-LEET-sah] a Russian-language independent newspaper, faces more than a dozen lawsuits filed in December and January. Some of the claimants are high-level Kyrgyz officials. The lawsuits appear to be part of a politically motivated campaign to shut down the newspaper. There is a similar situation in the neighboring Caucasus. In Azerbaijan, fifteen lawsuits have been filed against Azeri newspapers in the past two months.
In Belarus, the suppression of the newspaper Myestnoye Vremy [mee-est-NOY-ah vrem-yah] is part of a campaign aimed at silencing the independent media. The government of Belarus takes several tacks: it misuses libel laws, limits foreign funding, and pressures businesses not to advertise. The government uses its near-monopoly on newsprint production, newspaper printing, and distribution to levy discriminatory and burdensome rates on independent media, compared to lower rates for state media. Belarusian authorities also deny accreditation to journalists critical of the government.
Freedom of the press is a fundamental human right. No country can democratize without the protection of the right of print and television media to report the news, both foreign and domestic. That is what the struggle in Eurasia is all about.