Media Watchdog Urges Central Asian States To Allow Journalists Cover Ukraine War Freely

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday that the governments of five Central Asian Republics are pressurizing their journalists and limiting freedom of media outlets while covering the war in Ukraine.

RSF asked these countries to allow the journalists to cover the war in Ukraine and “its consequences as they see fit.”

“That these governments pressured their media outlets to provide neutral coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or ignore it altogether,” RSF said in a statement

The authorities “are doing so to avoid offending their Russian neighbor.”

“In Kyrgyzstan, Next TV director Taalai Duishenbiev is facing up to seven years in prison on charges of spreading false information and inciting ethnic hatred,” RSF said in a statement.

Duishenbieve was sentenced because of a report about the war in Ukraine that this opposition TV channel reposted on its social media accounts. 

Duishenbiev was arrested in the capital, Bishkek, and several other employees were questioned after it reposted a report on 2 March in which the exiled former head of neighboring Kazakhstan’s Committee for National Security (KNB) was quoted as referring to a supposed secret agreement between Bishkek and Moscow for Kyrgyzstan to provide military assistance to Russia in Ukraine.

On 29 March, a court in Bishkek ruled that the post was “extremist.”

In Uzbekistan, the authorities have been trying to intimidate journalists and bloggers into toning down their coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the statement said.

According to RSF, some articles on the subject on the popular news sites and were later deleted. 

On 26 February, Uzbekistan National Security Service (SNB) summoned editor Umid Shermukhammedov and two of the site’s founders for questioning.

Anora Sodikova, editor of Rost24 News told Radio Ozodlik (the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) that several of her colleagues have been subjected to similar pressure. Meanwhile, as in Russia, the Uzbek state media avoid using the words “invasion” or “aggression.”

RSF said that the media should not be getting instructions from the security forces on how to cover events and called on the authorities in Central Asian countries to stop pressuring journalists in this way and to respect the independence of the press.”

In Kazakhstan, the word “war” is not banned but the coverage provided by state media and media owned by leading businessmen is very cautious, and pressure is being put on the independent weekly Uralskaya Nedelya, the statement added.

In Tajikistan, the few independent media outlets cover the war but it is ignored by state-controlled television, the statement furthered.

In Turkmenistan, where all media are controlled by the state, the state news agency TDH has not mentioned the war.

Kyrgyzstan is ranked 79th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index,  Kazakhstan is 155th, Uzbekistan is ranked 157th, Tajikistan is 162nd and Turkmenistan is 178th.


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