Prosecutor threatens legal action against two editors

New York, January 12, 2006—The top prosecutor in the Kyrgyzstani capital, Bishkek, said today he had issued formal warnings to two newspaper editors and may take legal action against them for allegedly slandering President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, according to press reports.

“Recently some media have published articles distributing unreliable information, some of it slanderous with regard to the character of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, affecting his honor [and] dignity and undermining his reputation,” Prosecutor General Uchkun Karimov said at a press conference in Bishkek. His comments were reported by the independent AKI Press news agency and other news organizations.

Prosecutors issued the warnings on Wednesday to the editors of Litsa and Komsomolskaya Pravda v Kyrgyzstane after the Bishkek papers each published articles about alleged government corruption.

Litsa Editor-in-Chief Bermet Bukasheva received a warning because the newspaper published a December 27, 2005, interview in which two politicians accused Bakiyev of corruption. Komsomolskaya Pravda v Kyrgyzstane Editor-in-Chief Aleksandr Kulinskii received a warning stemming from a January 6 article describing widespread government corruption.

Karimov threatened unspecified legal action against the editors if they continued publishing “slanderous” articles,” AKI Press reported. Kyrgyzstan has both civil and criminal libel laws, so the editors could face potential monetary damages or up to three years in prison.

“The president is moving ahead with making concrete media reforms, but this is clearly an effort by the Bishkek prosecutor to assert his control over the media,” Kuban Mambetaliyev, director of the Bishkek-based press freedom group Public Association of Journalists, told CPJ in a telephone interview today. Bakiyev has not commented publicly about the newspapers’ stories or the prosecutor’s actions.

Bakiyev came to power in March following a popular uprising sparked by widespread anger over fraud-marred parliamentary elections—along with weeks of government censorship, harassment, and obstruction of the press.

“It would be very unfortunate if recent national gains in free expression were undermined by the local prosecutor,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We urge all authorities to stop this harassment of the press.”