Parliament may abolish criminal libel

New York, April 13, 2001 — The Kyrgyz Parliament is currently considering the repeal of the republic’s notorious criminal libel statutes.

A parliamentary committee recently circulated draft legislation to exclude articles 127 and 128 (for libel and insult respectively) from the Criminal Code.

On April 4, committee chairman Azimbek Beknazarov told local reporters that the draft law was ready, but that the Justice Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the Supreme Court felt it was “too early” to repeal the laws.

“We urge Kyrgyz authorities to amend the criminal code to exclude libel and insult, so that journalists can write freely without fear of imprisonment,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Alex Lupis.

Legal experts in the capital, Bishkek, told CPJ that they expect the statutes to be amended in the next two to three months.

Since last fall, local media organizations have been meeting with government officials and legislators to discuss decriminalizing libel and insult, which currently carry a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

Most libel cases against Kyrgyz journalists are civil, but the threat of criminal proceedings is by no means an idle one. One local journalist who successfully appealed his conviction for libelling a local judge now faces another court battle.

On March 13, the Jalal-Abad District Court reversed its own decision to free Moldosali Ibraimov, a reporter who was cleared of criminal libel charges last year.

A local judge named Toktosun Kasymbekov brought libel charges against Ibraimov after the journalist reported that Kasymbekov had accepted a US$15,000 bribe in connection with a legal dispute between two local politicians.

On June 19, 2000, Ibraimov was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 107,000 soms (US$2,200). After winning an appeal, he was freed on July 20, 2000.

Judge Kasymbekov appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court in Bishek, which instructed the District Court to review its decision. On March 13, 2001, the original conviction was reinstated. The court then suspended the jail sentence, and Ibraimov is currently at liberty.

Ismailov’s defense lawyer, Akmat Alagushev, told CPJ that he had filed a complaint with the Supreme Court. Alagushev expects a response within two to three months.