On 5 July a two day Central Asia Media Conference, entitled "From traditional to online media: best practices and perspectives", kicked off at the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. The two-day event will provide a platform for journalists, government officials, international and regional experts, representatives of civil society and academia to discuss best practices and perspectives of transition from traditional to online media. Furthermore, it is a chance for the authoritarian countries to learn about media freedom.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, called upon the authorities in Central Asia to ensure that the Internet is a free and open space and to guarantee freedom of the media and expression online. Mijatović addressed more than 150 journalists, government officials and representatives of civil society and academia from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Afghanistan. She said “blocking and filtering are not solutions. If the authorities are concerned for the safety of their citizens they should foster Internet literacy and self-regulatory models and should not use blocking as a tool for Internet governance”.
On 20 June Human Rights Watch documented concerns in a report on Central Asia issued on June 20, which among other issues singled out restrictions on media freedoms and the pressuring of civil society activists. A court in Kyrgyzstan for example, on 4 July, fined an ethnic Russian journalist the equivalent of ,100 for publishing articles it considers to be a humiliation of the Kyrgyz nation and propaganda of ethnic discord. The court in Bishkek ruled that Vladimir Farafonov had insulted the Kyrgyz people, but it rejected the eight-year jail sentence sought by prosecutors. Mijatovic expressed fears that the verdict might negatively influence the journalistic community in Kyrgyzstan, saying “I commended the Kyrgyz authorities when they decriminalized defamation in July last year, which was an important step forward. I strongly believe that while following standards of professional ethics, journalists should be able to write on sensitive issues.”
However, in Kazakhstan there was a small glimmer of hope when on 3 July a prominent activist - declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International - was released from jail. Theater director Bolat Atabayev was arrested after staging a play about the riots in Zhanaozen, which led to the death of at least 17 people and distorted the stable reputation of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has used the riots to convict people such as Atabayev who actually had little to do with the matter. He was released of charges of inciting the fatal unrest and calling for the overthrow of the state after signing a document stating that he had repented. Others are still awaiting trials.
On 4 July Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon signed a draft law repealing the criminalisation of libel and defamation, downgrading the offenses to civil violations. It is a small gain for independent journalists that have come under pressure from authorities since the country gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The OSCE welcomed plans to adopt the law earlier this year. Tajikistan, however, retains controversial legal provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail.
Human Rights Watch
Radio Free Europe
Trend News Agency
24.kg news agency
PictureOSCE Headquarters Vienna