Press freedom conditions deteriorated significantly
ýn Kazakhstan during 2002. Direct criticism of the president, his
family, and his associates is considered seditious, and the
government's growing persecution of the media has increased
self-censorship. Furthermore, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has
consolidated his control over the airwaves and newsstands ahead of
parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 2004 and 2006,
Emboldened by the growing number of U.S. troops in
the country, President Askar Akayev has used the threat of
international terrorism as an excuse to curb political dissent and
suppress the independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan. Compliant
courts often issue exorbitant damage awards in politically motivated
libel suits, driving even the country's most prominent newspapers to
the brink of bankruptcy.
Lingering political instability, pervasive official
corruption, and interethnic tension kept Macedonia on edge in 2002.
Sporadic clashes between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian
rebels continued despite a peace accord signed in August 2001 to end
the country's short-lived civil war, which began in January 2001. As a
result, independent journalism remains a tenuous and risky profession
Political instability and social unrest plagued Moldova in 2002, with
disenfranchised groups struggling against the country's authoritarian
president, Vladimir Voronin, and his ruling Communist Party. The
country's small and beleaguered nonstate media suffered from the feeble
economy and official harassment, while state print and broadcast media
endured heavy-handed censorship.
Government officials, wary of any media coverage
that could potentially threaten the country's efforts to join NATO and
the European Union, used threats and intimidation to promote docile
reporting--resulting in increased self-censorship in 2002.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, along with his
coterie of conservative former intelligence officials, pressed ahead in
2002 to impose his vision of a "dictatorship of the law" in Russia to
create a "managed democracy." Putin's goal of an obedient and patriotic
press meant that the Kremlin continued using various branches of the
state apparatus to rein in the independent media.
The devastating legacy of the civil war (1992-1997)
between President Imomali Rakhmonov's government and various opposition
parties for control over the country continued to haunt the Tajik media
in 2002. Because of widespread poverty--a result of the war and a
subsequent string of natural disasters--reporters often work in run-down
offices with outdated equipment. Only a small fraction of the
population can access or afford the Internet. Moreover, the media
community remains small, since many of the country's leading
journalists either fled during the civil war or perished in it. (Tens
of thousands died during the conflict, including at least 24
journalists.) Scarred by the violent murders of their colleagues, many
journalists heavily censor themselves to avoid retribution. And the
government's failure to effectively investigate cases of murdered
journalists only deepens the press' sense of insecurity.
In November, the Islamist-oriented Justice and
Development Party won parliamentary elections in Turkey. The new prime
minister, Abdullah Gul, and influential party head Recep Tayyip Erdogan
affirmed that joining the European Union would be a top government
priority. To that end, they promised greater democratic reform,
including an easing of long-standing restrictions on freedom of
expression that remain in place despite changes implemented by the
outgoing government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.