Radio station suspended days before parliamentary elections

New York, February 25, 2005—A state broadcast regulator last night shuttered the popular Kyrgyz Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, known locally as Radio Azattyk, just three days ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections, according to local and international press reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the government to overturn the decision immediately and allow the station to resume broadcasting.

The Production Association for Relay Lines, Television and Radio Broadcasting (RPO RMTR) told Radio Azattyk Director Kiaz Moldokasymov that an upcoming auction for the station’s frequency had prompted the sudden closure, The Associated Press reported.

The auction date is March 10. The station normally signs an annual contract with RPO RMTR for the frequency; it submitted documents for renewal on February 8. Radio Azattyk reporters said they believed the suspension was related to politically sensitive parliamentary elections set for February 27, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The popular station’s national reach and its willingness to criticize government officials have been particularly important to rural audiences who have little other access to independent sources of news, according to local reports.

“We are deeply concerned by the government’s decision to silence an important news source in the run-up to parliamentary elections—the very moment that citizens most need independent sources of information,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the government to immediately reverse this act of censorship and to allow Radio Azattyk to return to the air.”

In a separate development, authorities cut off electricity on February 22 to the country’s only independent printing house. The Media Support Center, funded and operated by the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Freedom House, prints the country’s major independent and opposition newspapers.

The printing house has accused the Kyrgyzstani government of obstructing its work. Authorities claim the organization lacked proper documents, the Moscow Times reported. The printing house is able to function in limited capacity using power generators supplied by the U.S. embassy, the Moscow-based news Web site reported.

The developments come amid growing political tensions in the country in the run-up to parliamentary elections. Some 2,000 demonstrators blocked a key highway near the town of Kochkor, some 150 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital Bishkek, for three consecutive days, protesting an opposition candidate’s exclusion from the parliamentary ballot, the Moscow Times reported.