Central Asian and Caucasus countries maintained their status as largely "Not Free" in the latest index published by the Washington-based media watchdog Freedom House.
As well as Mongolia (which progressed to being "Free" in this year's report) and Georgia (which maintained its "Partly Free" ranking), the exceptions were Armenia, and Kygryzstan, which moved to being "Partly Free".
In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan is the only country that found itself in a group of “Not Free” countries. “Tightly controlled legislative elections in Azerbaijan, which followed another year of intense suppression of civil society, resulted in a hollow victory for the ruling party, with most opposition groups boycotting the vote,” the report says of the oil-rich country. “President Ilham Aliyev’s government used the polls to show its teeth to the democratic world, barring several foreign journalists from covering the process and imposing restrictions on international observer groups that led some to suspend their monitoring missions.”
Apart from Kyrgyzstan, all other Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – confirmed their status as “Not Free”.
“Faced with slumping economies and security threats linked to foreign conflicts, these regimes sought to fortify themselves against any remaining opposition or dissent,” the report says. Authorities in Central Asian countries have been using a threat of terrorism as a pretext to further curtail civil liberties and tighten grip on power in recent years.
“In Tajikistan, for example, the government of President Emomali Rahmon, who has ruled the country since 1992, ensured that the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) lost all of its seats in legislative elections,” Freedom House reported. “The authorities then intensified their assault on the party over the subsequent months, revoking its registration, detaining its leaders, and effectively incapacitating what had been Central Asia’s only legal Islamist political grouping.” The arrest of opposition leaders and a ban on the IRPT violated the guarantees of political pluralism established in the peace agreement that ended the country’s civil war in 1997, the report notes.
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