The region of Central Asia includes the nations of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Pakistan, the sixth most populous nation on Earth, was deemed the deadliest nation for the press in 2011 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Journalists have been targeted and murdered for their work despite pledges by the government to seek justice. Recent killings include the drive-by shooting in Karachi of Wali Khan Babar, a TV broadcaster who had reported on gang violence, and Saleem Shahzad, who had been writing about ties between Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s intelligence service when his body was found outside Islamabad. The CPJ ranks Pakistan 10th on its Impunity Index of countries where the murders of journalists go unpunished.
In addition to the ongoing danger, threats and harassment facing journalists, Pakistan has had episodes of repression. The Overseas Press Club, while noting that Pakistan has “a vibrant inquisitive press,” condemned official action to shut down media outlets after they reported on a 2010 appearance in England by President Asif Ali Zardari where protesters pelted him with shoes.
Pakistan, which was part of India until the partition along mostly religious lines by the British in 1947, is a nuclear power with a long history of hostility with its neighbor. The two countries both claim the disputed territory of Kashmir, the subject of at least three wars and ongoing tension.
Afghanistan has known more war than peace during the last 40 years. Internal power struggles divided the country in the 1970s, followed by a Soviet invasion in 1979 that lasted ten years. In the 1990s the Islamist hard-liners known as the Taliban came to power, and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the country was invaded by the United States and NATO troops seeking Osama bin Laden.
The country’s hostile environment has resulted in numerous instances of threats and violence against journalists, reports CPJ. With a relatively weak central government and a network of fairly autonomous tribal warlords, the country ranks sixth on the Impunity Index.
The CPJ has protested the government’s failure to enact media protection laws, and OPC urged the government to reverse a 2010 decision prohibiting the media from reporting at the scene of terrorist attacks. The OPC in 2009 also protested a reporter’s 20-year prison sentence for “insolence to Islam.”
The region collectively and sometimes disparagingly known as “the Stans” embraces Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These former Soviet republics became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although created nominally along ethnic lines, some of the countries have faced challenges in developing democratic governments and distinct national identities. Natural resources vary – Kazakhstan’s are vast, while Tajikistan remains the poorest nation in the former Soviet sphere.
In 2011, the OPC protested criminal charges against two journalists in Kyrgyzstan who covered an anti-government demonstration, and in 2009 protested the arrest and detention of a journalist in Kazakhstan.
Mongolia, a nation about the size of Alaska sandwiched between Russia and China, protects freedom of the press by law, according to Freedom House. Nonetheless, journalists sometimes face legal intimidation and harassment.