Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Censorship in Uzbekistan

The BBC takes a look at the alarming extent of censorship in the Central Asian dictatorship of Uzbekistan. Online filtering is a key part of the regime's campaign against intellectual freedom:

Most of the independent and pro-opposition websites are blocked, as are the BBC and Radio Liberty.

In hundreds of internet cafes across the country, the government is keeping a close eye on the behaviour of internet users.

"If you want to copy a file in an internet cafe to your USB stick, you have to ask the manager, who first checks the content and only then copies your file," explained an Uzbek journalist who asked not to be identified.

"Even if you use a search engine and type in Uzbekistan or Islam Karimov, all articles that may have negative comments are blocked - even blogs are inaccessible," she said.

Unfortunately, the Karimov regime's campaign of censorship goes well beyond cyberspace, or even the physical borders of Uzbekistan, as the recent murder of an Uzbek journalist named Alisher Saipov in neighboring Kyrgyzstan shows:

On 24 October at 7pm, as Alisher left his office in Osh, an unidentified gunmen fired two bullets into the back of his head.

Kyrgyz police are still looking for the perpetrators, but according to Paul Quinn Judge, Central Asia director of the International Crisis Group, the murder sent a pretty clear signal.

"You don't criticise the president, you don't criticise his constitutional decisions, and you certainly don't vote against him," said Mr Judge.

"Alisher's murder reinforced that message in a very brutal way, but I suspect very strongly the message of Alisher's murder goes to the overseas opposition rather than the internal Uzbek opposition."

Daniil Kislov said: "It was an execution. A cold-blooded execution designed to tell all of us to shut up."

Uzbekistan was a US ally in the War on Terror from 9/11 until 2005. In May of that year, the regime massacred opponents in the city of Andijon, an event that led to a fracturing of the US-Uzbek relationship. Since then, the Karimov regime has been embraced by Russia and China while intensifying its crackdown on free expression.


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