(Washington, DC--July 25, 2003) Press Freedom is deteriorating in Central Asia, according to Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. Windsor, who appeared with independent Kazakh newspaper editor Ermurat Bapi, told an RFE/RL audience this week that "The Central Asian republics have a very low standard" according to her organization's recently published "Freedom of the Press 2003" report.
Windsor, who recently visited Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, found it striking that the three countries consistently measure themselves against each other and not in terms of world standards for governing. As a result, falling far behind such standards seemed unimportant to the officials of those countries, Windsor said. She stated that, although official censorship is waning, the governments in these countries are imposing a deliberate strategy against the press that consists of harassment, intimidation, imprisonment of key leaders and the closure of a number of newspapers. The states exercise considerable control over printing institutions, Windsor said, thus putting constant pressure on the independent press.
Ermurat Bapi, the editor in chief of the newspaper SolDat, criticized the Kazakh government for the deterioration of the freedom of the press in his country. According to Bapi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is the final arbiter on all decisions of consequence in Kazakhstan, including the crackdown on opposition media. Anyone who dares to write something unfavorable about the President, said Bapi, faces immediate prosecution. Moreover, pressure on the media has now increased to an as-yet unseen level. The editor emphasized that the Kazakh people must be given the means to influence the course of developments in their homeland, which is impossible within the current political realities.
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