Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Uzbekistan
As of December 31, 1998

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Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's autocratic president, has promoted a repressive campaign against both secular and religious media, making a mockery of laws guaranteeing freedom of expression and barring censorship. A new organization to monitor and control religious publications, the Qanoat Center, joined the secular press censorship inspectorate. And Karimov went on Uzbekistan's state television to denounce the Islamic fundamentalist Wahhabi sect as a major cause of instability in the republic. The 1992 constitution specifically allows freedom of speech and conscience and bans censorship as "impermissible." But two laws enacted in 1997 -- the law on the press and the law on protection of journalists -- stress journalists' responsibility not to publish inaccurate information, disclose classified material, or violate provisions of the criminal code that forbid insults aimed at the president.

The state-run newspapers Pravda Vostoka and Narodnoe Slovo, the dominant national dailies, continued to act as official organs, promoting Karimov's personality cult. In this atmosphere, the small number of independent publications and local television stations feel pushed toward self-censorship. Journalists expressing critical or dissenting views received harsh treatment. In June, Shadi Mardiev, a veteran Samarkand radio journalist, was found guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced to 11 years in prison for a radio report on the corrupt activities of a high-ranking Tashkent official. CPJ appealed by letter to Karimov to use his influence to reverse the verdict and relax controls over freedom of expression. Two months later, on August 1, two Russian journalists were assaulted in Tashkent following a meeting with an Uzbek human rights activist. An official investigation failed to turn up the culprits.

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