Television reporter attacked, sued, after critical broadcast

New York, March 21, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the recent beating of a television journalist who reported on corruption at a railroad company in Kyrgyzstan.

Kairat Birimkulov, reporter for the Kyrgyz main state broadcaster Government TV and Radio Company (GTRK), was attacked by two unidentified men on March 16 near his home in the Alamedin district of the Chui Province neighboring Bishkek, according to local press reports and CPJ interviews.

The men hit the journalist repeatedly on the head and face using brass knuckles, and took his video camera, tape recorder, and work files. Birimkulov sustained skull and brain injuries and is hospitalized in serious condition, according to hospital authorities in Bishkek. The Alamedin district police have opened a criminal investigation into the attack, CPJ confirmed.

“We call on Kyrgyz authorities to ensure that the police investigation into the brutal attacks on Kairat Birimkulov is thorough,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Journalists in Kyrgyzstan should be allowed to report on matters of public interest without fear of harassment.”

Birimkulov believes the attack is related to his journalism, according to local press reports. The reporter suspects the Bishkek railroad company Kyrgyz Temir Zholu masterminded the attack, he told local journalists from his hospital bed.

In early March, GTRK broadcast Birimkulov’s report on alleged corruption, negligence and illegal business at the company, local press reports said. On March 14, two days before Birimkulov was attacked, Kyrgyz Temir Zholu Director Nariman Tyuleyev filed a defamation suit against the journalist in connection to his broadcast, according to Public Association Journalist, a Bishkek-based press freedom group. The first court hearing was scheduled for March 19, the group said.

Three months before the attack, Birimkulov had received anonymous threats by phone when he first reported on Kyrgyz Temir Zholu, GTRK Deputy Director Beikhenbek Betesov told CPJ. “Kairat complained many times about threats and pursuits, but we didn’t understand how serious they were,” Betesov said.

On January 26, Birimkulov made the same allegations about the company’s activities, including about its usage of outdated trains, at a press conference in Bishkek, local press reported. At that time, a spokeswoman for the railroad company did not deny the allegations but said the information Birimkulov reported was classified, the Internet newspaper reported.