There is at least one place in the world that missed the death of Osama bin Laden – Uzbekistan.
According to Uznews.net, an independent site covering the authoritarian Central Asian state, the only Uzbek news outlet to cover bin Laden’s death was 12.uz, another independent website. The best reason given for failing to cover one of the biggest stories of the decade – and one of particular importance to Uzbekistan? No Internet.
“The Pravda Vostoka newspaper, which is the government mouthpiece in Uzbekistan, said it had not heard about bin Laden’s death immediately after it happened because it did not have an Internet connection when the news broke,” writes Uznews.net. “The newspaper added that bin Laden’s death was unlikely to be of interest to its readership.”
That’s funny. For years, US administrations have overlooked widely documented human rights abuses in Uzbekistan (a favorite includes boiling people alive), because the country, and its authoritarian President Islam Karimov, are considered a key ally in the so-called “war on terror.” (Read this story in The Atlantic about how former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently propped up the theory that the bloody 2005 massacre in Andijan didn’t really happen.) Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan, and the US hosted an airbase there until criticism of the Andijan massacre at the time prompted the Uzbeks to shut it down. But it still allows the transit of cargo for the war through its territory.
Several Uzbek fighters have been caught in Afghanistan, and the remnants of a once-powerful militant group called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan still poses somewhat of a threat to the region (the US recently issued a travel warning as a result). Karimov greatly plays up the threat to crack down on any opposition, but it’s still there (to however a small degree).
So arguing bin Laden’s death is of no interest to the Uzbek people is funny. But less funny when you realize that Uzbekistan was just named among Freedom House’s top 10 “worst offenders” when it comes to press freedom.
(A hat tip to Peter Leonard, AP’s Central Asia correspondent based in Almaty, for pointing me to this story.)