|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.