Kyrgystan backsliding on press freedom

March 24, 2010 

His Excellency 
Kurmanbek Bakiyev 
President of Kyrgyzstan 
Dom Pravitelstva 
Bishkek 720003 
Kyrgyzstan 

Via facsimile: + 996 (312) 62 7072 and +996 (312) 21 8627 

Your Excellency,

On the fifth anniversary of the Tulip Revolution that brought your government to power on the promise of democratic reform, the Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express alarm at your government’s backsliding on press freedom.

In addition to the increase in violent attacks against reporters, we are concerned about a recent wave of official intimidation of private broadcasters to drop critical programming, the blocking of internal access to independent news Web sites, and the suspension of independent newspapers in retaliation for their coverage of anti-government protests and corruption.

CPJ research shows that a number of critical outlets, including the Kyrgyz service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (also known as Radio Azattyk), the independent news Web sites Ferghana, CentrAsia, and Bely Parus, the popular blogging platform LiveJournal, and the independent newspapers Achyk Sayasat and Nazar, have come under attack from state agencies after reporting on sensitive political issues

According to CPJ interviews and regional press reports, the Kyrgyz state communications agency, Kyrgyzstan’s Prosecutor General’s Office, and the country’s main telecommunications provider, Kyrgyztelecom, blocked, filed charges against, or took off the air these media outlets after they reported on a recent wave of anti-government protests in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and in the regions. The outlets had also criticized Kyrgyz authorities and covered the money-laundering indictment in Italy of a businessman with large reported investments in Kyrgyzstan and alleged ties to the presidential family.

Coverage of these contentious issues has been conspicuously absent from Kyrgyzstan’s mainstream media, local sources told CPJ.

Tyntchtykbek Tchoroyev, head of Radio Azattyk, told CPJ that in early March, several private radio and television stations across Kyrgyzstan dropped RFE/RL’s programming after authorities threatened to revoke their licenses. Simultaneously, Radio Azattyk’s Web site became inaccessible to Kyrgyz readers with Internet access provided by Kyrgyztelecom. Both the pressure on local stations and the blocking of the site took place shortly after Radio Azattyk reported on the protests and the indictment, Tchoroyev told CPJ.

Despite assurances by Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov that he would address the matter, the broadcasts have not been restored.

Several independent Central Asia news Web sites, including Ferghana and Bely Parus, as well as of the popular blogging platform LiveJournal, have been blocked recently. These Internet outlets are known for carrying critical reports and views in opposition to your government’s policies. Daniil Kislov, Ferghana’s chief editor, told CPJ that access to his outlet has been blocked for users in Kyrgyzstan since March 10, immediately after his site covered an anti-government rally in the city of Naryn, and published a detailed account on the indictment in Italy.

In the latest attack against the press, on March 18, Pervomaisky District Court in Bishkek ordered the suspension of the independent Kyrgyz-language newspapers Achyk Sayasat and Nazar while the court is hearing a case on the alleged insult of your honor and dignity. The case stems from a March 16 article by exiled opposition activist Ravshan Dzheyenbekov, carried by both papers, in which he accused the Kyrgyz government and presidency of corruption, nepotism, and failure to address pressing social and economic issues. Prosecutors have demanded that the newspapers each pay damages of 5 million Kyrgyz som (US$112,000)—a sum that would not only threaten the newspapers’ existence but also broaden the already widespread self-censorship in the press.

We urge you to stop the Prosecutor General’s Office from using your name as a means to censor critical news outlets, such as in the case against Achyk Sayasat and Nazar, which gives the impression that you are unable to tolerate public scrutiny.

On this important anniversary, we urge you to publicly condemn the anti-press freedom campaign that is currently sweeping Kyrgyzstan, and to prevent it from gaining further momentum. We urge you to ensure that Radio Azattyk’s broadcasts and the internal access to independent online news outlets are fully restored; that the politicized prosecution against Achyk Sayasat and Nazar is dropped at once; and that the press is not intimidated to cover issues of public interest.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

March 24, 2010 5:57 PM ET |

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