Israel, Uzbekistan, and the Guardian’s continuing obsession

Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. The organization was founded by Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.

It publishes an annual report assessing the degree of perceived democratic freedoms in each country, which is used in political science research.

The major themes they explore and use to evaluate such countries are:

  1. ELECTORAL PROCESS
  2. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION
  3. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT
  4. ADDITIONAL DISCRETIONARY POLITICAL RIGHTS QUESTIONS:
  5. CIVIL LIBERTIES CHECKLIST
  6. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS
  7. RULE OF LAW
  8. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS

The final score is based on the following scale:

On Freedom House’s summary table, among those listed as “Free”, with a score of 1.5 (the second highest score), is Israel, who shares this same numerical ranking with nations such as Italy, Japan, and Greece.

According to Freedom House:

“Press freedom is respected in Israel, and the media are vibrant and independent. All Israeli newspapers are privately owned and freely criticize government policy.”

“While Israel’s founding documents define it as a “Jewish and democratic state,” freedom of religion is respected. Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.”

“Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Israel hosts an active civil society, and demonstrations are widely permitted.”

“Workers may join unions of their choice and have the right to strike and bargain collectively.”

“The judiciary is independent and regularly rules against the government. The Supreme Court hears direct petitions from citizens and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

“Women have achieved substantial parity at almost all levels of Israeli society.”

“Sexual minorities have made significant strides in recent years. A 2005 Supreme Court decision granted guardianship rights to nonbiological parents in same-sex partnerships, and two lesbians were granted permission to legally adopt each other’s biological children in 2006. Openly gay Israelis are permitted to serve in the armed forces.”

Among those listed as “Not Free” – most of which are Muslim states – are: the Palestinian Authorities, Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Libya, and Sudan.  Trailing them all are North Korea and Uzbekistan, who are among the very worst human rights violators.

Though you would never know it by opening the Palestinian Authorities page at CiF, Freedom House lists them as “Not Free”, with a very bad score of 5.5.  Freedom House reports:

“The Palestinian Authority–administered territories received a downward trend arrow due to crackdowns by Hamas on Fatah in Gaza, as well as crackdowns by Fatah on Hamas in the West Bank, with the use of violence and torture during arrests and interrogations by both sides.”

“Journalists who criticize the PA or the dominant factions face arbitrary arrests, threats, and physical abuse.”

“Palestinian schools teach hatred of Israel.”

“There are reportedly hundreds of administrative detainees currently in Palestinian jails and detention centers. The same courts are also used to try those suspected of collaborating with Israel or accused of drug trafficking. Defendants are not granted the right to appeal sentences and are often summarily tried and sentenced to death. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, alleged collaborators are routinely tortured in Palestinian jails and denied the right to defend themselves in court. These practices are not prohibited under Palestinian law.”

“Personal status law, derived in part from Sharia, puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape, domestic abuse, and “honor killings,” in which women who are raped or engage in extramarital sex are murdered by a relative, are not uncommon. These murders often go unpunished. HRW reported in November 2006 that women’s treatment in instances of rape or abuse is increasingly determined by tribal leaders or PA-appointed governors, and not by the courts, a situation that HRW said leads to arbitrary decisions. In 2007, the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs found that legal options for victims of domestic abuse were extremely limited.”

Such violations of basic human rights norms are apparently of no particular concern to the editors at the Guardian, as you can see by a snapshot of CiF’s page on the “Palestinian Territories“. Upon viewing it, one would be forgiven for assuming that it was the “Israel” page:

From left to right, we see a large photo accompanying their link to CiFs coverage of “Israel’s attack” on Gaza – a war which took place over a year an a half ago;  A story on female IDF soldiers “speaking out” about the alleged mistreatment of Palestinians; A video installment entitled “Ethnic Cleansing in the Negev”;  A flotilla related story which includes a video interview of a woman who was on board the Mavi Mamara, who they refer to as a “Survivor” of Israel’s assault; a CiF poll on whether readers think there will be a Palestinian state created by 2011; A link to “A Week in Gaza” with a photo, presumably, of religious Muslim women in Gaza, seemingly free and unburdened; a section called “Interactives” which is accompanied by a photo of a lone Palestinian figure atop Israel’s security fence waving a Palestinian flag in seeming defiance; and a photo of a Jewish pro-Palestinian “activist”who was injured after protesting the flotilla incident.

So, I also decided to check out CiFs coverage of the worst human rights violator, according to Freedom House, the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, and this, after a bit of searching, is what I found.

(click to enlarge)

The page (which included as much coverage on Kyrgyzstan as its neighbor Uzbekistan) includes, as its lead story, a report on environmental activism in the Central Asian Republic entitled, “Environmentalism needs Muslim Support.”  There were a couple of stories which only mentioned Uzbekistan in passing, and, one – that’s right, one – story specifically centered on, and negative to, Uzbekistan: “Sting in the pay of tyrannical Uzbekistan regime” – a story which linked to their Culture Blog, and really focussed on the popular singer, Sting, who received more than one million dollars to perform for the Uzbek dictator’s daughter.

According to Freedom House:

“Uzbekistan remained marked by repressive state controls and the denial of basic human rights and freedoms.”

“Uzbekistan is not an electoral democracy. President Islam Karimov and the executive branch dominate the legislature and judiciary, and the government severely represses all political opposition.”

“The state also exercises strict control over Islamic worship, including the content of sermons. Suspected members of banned Muslim organizations and their relatives have been subjected to arrest, interrogation, torture, and extortion. Starting in November 2006, the U.S. State Department has repeatedly named Uzbekistan as a country of “particular concern” for violations of religious freedom.”

“Open and free private discussion is limited by the mahalla committees, traditional neighborhood organizations that the government has turned into an official system for public surveillance and control.”

“Freedom of association is severely restricted, and unregistered NGOs face extreme difficulties and harassment.”

“A 2007 report by Human Rights Watch described torture as “endemic” to the criminal justice system.”

“As with detained suspects, prison inmates—particularly those sentenced for their religious beliefs—are often subjected to abuse or torture, and Human Rights Watch has documented a number of torture-related deaths in custody during the last few years. Mutabar Tojiboyeva, a rights activist released in 2008 after several years behind bars, described prisons as “islands of torture.”

Also of note:

Uzbek’s dictator, Islam Karimov, has been reported to delight in such activities as boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour.

Perhaps most emblematic of the obsessive focus on democratic Israel by the Guardian and their fellow travelers, at the expense of more expansive coverage of the truly odious human rights violators in the world – such as the Hamas regime in Gaza, and Uzbekistan – is best illustrated by looking at the bottom right part of the above image, in a section which shows the most viewed story in the world news section.  If you peek at the bottom right of the page devoted to Uzbekistan, the world’s worst human rights violator, you’ll see that the story which wins the “most viewed” honor is:



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