CPJ testifies before Congress on press freedom conditions in Central Asia
'Absence of public debate allows repressive regimes to stay in power'

CPJ News, 19 July 2001

NEWS FROM THE COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS

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CPJ TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS ON PRESS FREEDOM CONDITIONS IN CENTRAL ASIA

New York, July 19, 2001 - A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) representative testified before a joint congressional subcommittee yesterday about the terrible state of press freedom in Central Asia.

"Repression and violence, or the threat thereof, are ever present for many reporters, encouraging self-censorship as a survival mechanism," CPJ Washington representative Frank Smyth told the joint hearing of the International Operations and Human Rights and Middle East and South Asia subcommittees of the House International Relations Committee. "Absence of public debate about issues allows repressive regimes to stay in power."

Smyth's testimony was part of a hearing on "Silencing Central Asia: The Voices of Dissent," held to investigate the state of freedom and democracy in Central Asia.

Freedom struggle

Surveying the state of press freedom in the five Central Asian republics, Smyth said it was not possible to talk of a free press in Turkmenistan. In Uzbekistan, local journalists are struggling under an increasingly oppressive regime. At the other end of the political spectrum, Kyrgyzstan historically allowed more press freedom than its neighbors. In recent years, however, the government has carried out a campaign of harassment and intimidation against local independent newspapers.

Tajikistan and Kazakhstan fall somewhere between these two extremes. Some measure of press freedom exists within strict boundaries defined by the governments, which do not hesitate to stifle critical reporting.

Kazakh journalist blocked from attending hearing

Yermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper SolDat, was invited to attend the hearings, but Kazakh authorities kept him from leaving the country. The same authorities allowed a pro-government Kazakh journalist to attend the hearing.

Bapi was planning to fly from Kazakhstan to the United States with Amirzhan Qosanov, an activist member of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan who had also been invited to attend. When the two men arrived at the Almaty airport on Sunday, July 15, Kazakh security officials prevented them from boarding their flight and seized both their passports, citing instructions from the National Security Committee.

Both Bapi and Qosanov had obtained valid Kazakh exit visas and U.S. entry visas, Agence France-Presse reported.

CPJ is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in New York that investigates press freedom violations in more than 130 countries worldwide. For a transcript of the testimony and for more information about CPJ, please visit our Web site at www.cpj.org.

CPJ News, 19 July 2001