March 23, 2000
His Excellency Askar Akayev
President of Kyrgyzstan
Via Fax: 011-7-3312-218627
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the recent arrest of veteran journalist Aziza Abdrasulova and the continued legal harassment of her newspaper, the Bishkek weekly Res Publika. We believe the arrest is part of an intimidation campaign being mounted by your government against independent media during the run-up to parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan.
At 7 p.m. on March 16, representatives from the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs arrested Abdrasulova in her Bishkek apartment. She was charged with “participating in an unsanctioned meeting” under Article 352 of the Administrative Code. Earlier that day, Abdrasulova had covered a peaceful rally outside the Pervomai Court building in Bishkek. Demonstrators had gathered to protest alleged fraud in the March 12 parliamentary run-off elections in the Kara-Bura district of the northern Talas region of Kyrgyzstan, and the detention of several opposition candidates.
Even though Abdrasulova was covering the demonstration as a journalist, she was arrested and detained along with the organizers of the protest. According to CPJ’s sources, Abdrasulova was forced to undergo a humiliating strip search by male police officers, was detained without food or heat, and was denied the right to legal counsel.
Following an all-night trial, during which she was also denied the right to defend herself, Abdrasulova was released at 5 a.m. on March 18, after paying a fine of 1000 soms (US$20).
Abdrasulova and her newspaper have faced concerted legal harassment in recent months. On January 16, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan upheld an earlier appeals court verdict that Res Publika had violated the “honor and dignity” of Amanbek Karypkulov, president of the National Radio and Television Corporation, by publishing an open letter from the television company’s employees that called for Karypkulov’s dismissal. The Court ruled that Res Publika must pay a fine of 200,000 sums (US$4,200). And on March 12, four days before she was arrested, police detained Abdrasulova for over three hours after she attempted to canvas voters’ opinions about the election process.
CPJ believes that such abuses indicate your government’s desire to discourage independent press coverage of opposition parties during the parliamentary election campaign. We fear that this crackdown on independent media will only intensify as the December, 2000, presidential election approaches.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns the recent arrest of Aziza Abdrasulova, along with the continued harassment of Res Publica and other independent Kyrgyz media. We urge you to ensure that your government refrains from harassing the local press, so that journalists in Kyrgyzstan may exercise their internationally-recognized right to inform the public about all political points of view, including those of the opposition.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.
Ann K. Cooper