As President Roza Otunbayeva declared her commitment to press freedom, parliament decriminalized libel, eliminating a tool used by authorities in the past to suppress critical journalism. But rising violence, censorship, and politically motivated prosecutions marred the year in Kyrgyzstan. Parliament ordered state agencies to block domestic access to the critical website Fergana News, although the order was not immediately implemented. Ahead of the October 30 presidential vote won by Almazbek Atambayev, legislators ordered domestic broadcasters to screen foreign-produced programming and remove content that could insult the candidates. An investigative commission under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found Kyrgyz authorities complicit in the ethnic conflict that gripped the south in June 2010. The conflict continued to cast a dark shadow over press freedom. Authorities brought trumped-up extremism charges against two ethnic Uzbek media owners, who went into exile after being compelled to give up their news assets. Another ethnic Uzbek journalist, Azimjon Askarov, was serving a life prison term on fabricated charges despite international calls for his release. Legislators banned local media from publishing images of the conflict on its anniversary.
In a June public letter, 40 journalists and press freedom advocates demanded that authorities investigate and solve continuing attacks against journalists, according to local press reports. Anti-press violence was on the rise in 2011, according to CPJ research.
As many as 90 foreign television channels were affected by a new provision in election law that required domestic operators to screen foreign-produced content and remove material that could insult candidates, domestic cable operators said. Members of parliament had argued that foreign media--Russian state-owned broadcasters in particular--would seek to influence election results, according to CPJ interviews and local press.
Censorship over time in Kyrgyzstan:
2007: 1 independent newspaper stopped printing after its editor's murder.
2008: 2 independent newspapers were forced to close in the face of criminal defamation and insult charges, CPJ research showed.
2009: 1 independent newspaper closed after staff members were threatened, according to CPJ research and regional press.
2010: 6 critical news outlets were targeted by authorities with retaliatory lawsuits or regulatory blocking, CPJ research showed.
2011: 1 regional news website, Fergana News, was blacklisted, regional and international press reported.
Press freedom and human rights groups, including CPJ, believe the charges against Askarov were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting on ethnic conflict and the abuse of detainees in southern Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court rebuffed his appeal in December, according to regional press reports.
Askarov case timeline:
June 15, 2010: Jalal-Abad police arrested Askarov on charges of incitement to ethnic conflict.
August 12, 2010: Regional prosecutors indicted Askarov on charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred, calls to mass disorder, and complicity in a police officer's murder.
September 15, 2010: Despite procedural violations and allegations that Askarov was tortured in custody, a regional court sentenced him to life in prison.
November 10, 2010: A regional court denied Askarov's appeal. Due to poor health, the journalist was transferred to a prison hospital.
December 20, 2011: In a ruling seen as a major blow to press freedom, the Supreme Court rejected Askarov's appeal.
After the June 2010 conflict, ethnic Uzbek media owners Khalil Khudaiberdiyev and Dzhavlon Mirzakhodzhayev faced attacks, harassment, and retaliatory prosecution. Authorities forced Khudaiberdiyev to sell his company, Osh TV. Mirzakhodzhayev suspended operation of Mezon TV and the newspapers Portfel and Itogi Nedeli. The outlets had produced news in Uzbek, as well as in Russian and Kyrgyz. As both owners fled the country, the country's largest ethnic minority was left without access to news in its native language.
In July, Kyrgyzstan's Central Elections Commission excluded Web-based news agencies from the list of media accredited to cover the presidential campaign and the October 30 vote, the Bishkek-based Media Policy Institute reported. Tuigunaly Abdraimov, the commission chairman, said the agency would not issue the accreditations because it did not have regulatory power over online outlets.
Internet penetration over time, according to the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU:
2005: 10.5 percent
NOTE: No data for 2009
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.