Unless European Union officials mean to expose the inconsistency of their own policymaking, they should stand firm by their declared commitment to defend press freedom and human rights in the former Soviet countries. For now, their drastically different approaches to authoritarian leaders in Belarus and Uzbekistan leave one questioning the EU's strategy.
Belarusian authorities' ongoing crackdown against independent
media and opposition activists prompted the European Parliament last week to
condemn the abuses and call for targeted sanctions against President Aleksandr
Lukashenko and his government. In a sound
response to the crisis, European MPs demanded the immediate release of all
imprisoned journalists and opposition candidates and urged European
institutions and officials to reconsider EU policy towards
News of the timely measures against Lukashenko have been
Karimov's regime is known for its decade-long crackdown against government
critics and political dissent. Unlike in
To ensure word of their brutality does not spread beyond the
borders, Uzbek authorities booted
all foreign broadcasters from the country, blocked
critical news websites, and barred
local reporters from contributing to foreign outlets. Nothing has changed since
then. Rather, Uzbek authorities extended their crackdown by intimidating,
critical journalists, including the president's own nephew, Dzhamshid
Karimov. For the third year,
Although the EU imposed economic and political sanctions, including the visa ban, against Karimov's regime, as of 2009 these mechanisms have been lifted. The Council of Europe cited improved human rights in the country, a misleading characterization given the regime's success in wiping out dissenting views and critical news coverage.
So today, the Uzbek leader was greeted by the same EU that once pledged to defend human rights in Uzbekistan. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said in a statement today that he raised key concerns with Karimov regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms, and called for the release of all political prisoners.
But what happens in Brussels too often stays in Brussels. Karimov ignored the EU's demands for years; now that the EU has relented on its sanctions and handed Karimov the positive publicity from a visit to Brussels, why is the regime going to be motivated to undertake human rights and press freedom reforms? As evidence of the EU's ineffective tack, Uzbek state media has ignored Barroso's statements on human rights so far.
Without directly addressing Uzbekistan's appalling press
freedom record and demanding unconditional improvements, the EU will show
Lukashenko that he, too, can get away with his brutal repression. If so, expect
to see Lukashenko in