Since Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, the state of democracy and freedom of the press in the country has steadily declined. The President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has been in power for over 20 years and allows little to no political alternatives or opposition in the country. Both in terms of legislation and in practice, there is little to no press freedom in Uzbekistan, and the country’s authoritarian government restricts access to outside sources of information to an absolute minimum. From time to time, Uzbekistan has had periods in which its citizens enjoyed increased freedom to organise themselves and obtain information about the outside world. But after the protests in Andijan, this liberalisation came to a complete halt, and the situation has rapidly deteriorated since that time. Andijan was a watershed moment in Uzbekistan’s history: in the wake of the revolt, the country more or less closed its doors to foreign humanitarian and democratic organisations and international donors have become very cautious about investing in Uzbekistan.
In 2005, there was an insurrection in the city of Andijan, which was brutally suppressed by the regime. After these unrests, Uzbekistan expelled international and humanitarian organisations. In response, the European Union imposed sanctions against Uzbekistan, after which the government’s repression of journalists became more severe. Members of the pres were arrested or prosecuted, and many were forced to leave the country. Punitive measures against journalists range from heavy fines to forced institutionalisation in a psychiatric hospital. The Internet is systematically censored in Uzbekistan. The government blocks access to social and political websites that are considered ‘inappropriate’, although its members continue to deny this is the case.
Despite the important role that the entire region may well play in the years ahead, Uzbekistan is not high on the agendas of most European and other countries. Except for its vast gas reserves, cotton industry, military bases and proximity to Afghanistan, the country is more or less ignored by the international community. In the media too, Uzbekistan gets limited exposure compared to other conflict and disaster areas around the world. All in all, it’s a ‘black hole’ on the world map.
For this reason, Free Press Unlimited Works to promote the Uzbek people’s access to impartial information and to support active people in and outside Uzbekistan.