01/18/2010, 00.00
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Central Asia trails the world in civil and democratic rights

The annual Freedom in the World report says that in 2009 many of the region’s nations actually slipped in terms of rights protection and democracy.
Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The health of democracy in the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia is getting worse, according to this year's Freedom in the World report, which was released on 12 January by Freedom House. The ratings of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Turkey all declined. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were among the bottom seven countries in the world, with the lowest scores possible in both political and civil liberties.

Kyrgyzstan's decline was due to an increasing concentration of power in the executive branch of the government, and a new law on religion that bans proselytising, private religious education, and the import and dissemination of religious literature. Based on the report’s criteria, the country slipped from "partly free" to "not free”.

“Central Asia remained one of the [most] repressive areas in the world,” the report said. “The decline of Kyrgyzstan from Partly Free to Not Free was of particular concern, as the country seemed to have been embarked on a reformist course at various times in the post-Soviet period.”

The document also criticised Kazakhstan, which "has made no progress toward implementation of reforms it had promised in advance of its assumption of the chairmanship “of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Instead, it has introduced “a restrictive new internet law” and carried out “ arbitrary arrests of officials and businesspeople". It has also arrested and sent to prison human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis.

Freedom House classified Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Afghanistan and the enclave of South Ossetia as "not free,” the last one because of "Russia's increased control over the economy and political system, and [. . .] rampant corruption among local elites”.

Things got worse in Iran as well because of "strong evidence of fraud in the June 2009 presidential election and the violent suppression of subsequent protests”.

In Afghanistan, the lower ranking was caused by “a deeply flawed presidential election that included massive fraud, a compromised electoral management body, and low voter turnout due to intimidation”.

In Russia, there were “electoral abuses, declining religious freedom, greater state controls over the presentation of history, and the repeated use of political terror against victims including human rights activists and journalists.”

Only Armenia, Georgia and Turkey were deemed “partly free”.

In the early 1990s, Kyrgyzstan was thought of as the “Switzerland of Central Asia,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House's director of research. “Now it's down with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the rest of the region that is one of the most unfree in the world”.

Central Asia “seems to find no way to bottom out, it just keeps going down and down,” said Felice Gaer, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Russia has been blamed for the trend because of Moscow’s attempt to keep control over the region’s former Soviet republics.

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