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Press Freedom Declines in Central Asia, Italy, says OSCE - 2003-09-25

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says press freedom is declining in central Asian countries, where journalists are subject censure and harassment. But freedom of the press is also said to be declining in Italy, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

The OSCE's media watchdog, Freimut Duve, told delegates Thursday that journalists in central Asia live in fear of harassment and brutal torture by the authorities.

Mr. Duve has just returned from a visit to the region made up of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. He described the government of Turkmenistan as fascist and racist, and said it was not fit to be in the OSCE .

Mr. Duve says he knows of journalists in Uzbekistan who have been accused of invented crimes and tortured to make confessions. Cases of journalist intimidation, he says, are common in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In Kazakhstan, he said, most of the media are in the hands of President Nursulatan Nazarbayev and his family.

Delegates from the central Asian countries, represented on the OSCE Council, reacted angrily to Mr. Duve's report, accusing him of bias.

But Mr. Duve was also critical of Italian media mogul and prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi's government, saying concentration of media ownership in Italy is posing a threat to freedom of the press.

"If you create zones of silence then the danger is there because candidates from other parties are not shown on TV," he said. "If you control 90 percent of the television stations then you can not just have propaganda but you can organize what I call zones of silence, don't mention other candidates, don't mention certain problems.

Mr. Duve says Italy, which currently holds the EU presidency, should set an example to eastern and central European countries.