Islam Karimov

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The Committee to Protect Journalists this week joined a campaign spearheaded by Human Rights Watch and Uzbek human rights defenders urging Czech President Milos Zeman to cancel Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov's visit to Prague. Zeman had invited Karimov to visit this month despite the Central Asian leader's notorious intolerance to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and Uzbekistan's abysmal human rights record, which includes the Andijan massacre of May 2005.

President Islam Karimov pledges to address the concerns of Uzbek journalists. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

New York, June 27, 2013--Uzbek President Islam Karimov should follow through on his public commitment today to support his country's journalists by releasing the unjustly jailed reporter Salidzhon Abdurakhmanov immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. News accounts have reported that the health of Abdurakhmanov, who has been imprisoned since 2008, has deteriorated in prison.

In the most tightly controlled countries, the media is told what they are allowed to report on and what topics are taboo. Anything related to the leader's health or his family is generally in the latter category. The resulting information vacuum can lead to rumors and uncertainty.

CPJ's new analysis identifies Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Iran as worst

CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney counts down the 10 countries where the press is most tightly restricted. How do leaders in these nations silence the media? And which country is the worst of all? (4:03)

Read CPJ's report on the 10 Most Censored countries for more detail on how censorship works, and which countries were the runners-up.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in Tashkent in October 2011. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Last week, President Obama signed into law a bill that expands sanctions against Belarus, whose authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko continues to imprison his opponents and critics. Lukashenko unleashed the latest crackdown hours after the flawed December 2010 presidential vote, which declared him winner of a fourth term. Repression in Belarus is ongoing. Last week, authorities further tightened their grip on the media by restricting access to blacklisted websites. On Monday, a district court in Minsk jailed an independent reporter for filming a one-man protest vigil in front of the KGB headquarters.

After defying the EU for years, Uzbek President Islam Karimov is welcomed by Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. (Reuters/Thierry Roge)

Unless European Union officials mean to expose the inconsistency of their own policymaking, they should stand firm by their declared commitment to defend press freedom and human rights in the former Soviet countries. For now, their drastically different approaches to authoritarian leaders in Belarus and Uzbekistan leave one questioning the EU's strategy. 

Top Developments
• Nation is a persistent jailer of journalists.
• Security agents enforce rigid censorship.

Key Statistic
4: Years EU human rights sanctions were in place before being lifted in 2009.

President Islam Karimov’s authoritarian government held at least seven journalists in prison, retaining its notorious distinction as the region’s leading jailer of journalists. Authorities harassed independent journalists, blocked critical news Web sites, and retained their tight grip on traditional media. Lawyers who defended journalists found themselves the targets of state retaliation as the country’s judicial system grew more punitive. While authorities kept a stranglehold on free expression at home, Uzbek diplomats insisted that their country’s actions were consistent with democratic principles.

ReutersAddressing the joint session of Uzbekistan’s parliament on Wednesday, President Islam Karimov urged his lawmakers to be more active in their work, saying that laws should address public needs, and blaming the local press corps for being “toothless” in its reporting, regional news Web site Ferghana reported.  

In his speech, available on the parliament’s Web site, Karimov, at left, said the legislative body should strengthen its control over the executive branch of the government, and added that the success of this process largely depends on “active participation of mass media.”

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