Journalists attacked, threatened amid growing political tensions

New York, April 9, 2007-The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by an attack and threats against several provincial journalists amid escalating political tension between Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and opposition leaders calling for his resignation.

“It’s the responsibility of journalists to report on political demonstrations and we are deeply concerned that journalists in Kyrgyzstan are threatened and harassed when they carry out this essential part of their job,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.. “Kyrgyz authorities must investigate these recent incidents so that journalists do not have to work in fear.”

Talantbek Sopuyev, correspondent for the television station Sentyabr in the southwestern city Jalal-Abad, was attacked by 40 protestors on March 31 as he was covering a pro-government demonstration in the city square, according to local press. Protestors, angry at the channel’s coverage, hit Sopuyev repeatedly and took his media equipment, the press freedom organization Public Association Journalist reported. Sentyabr is owned by local Ata-Meken opposition party leader Omurbek Tekebayev.

While Jalal-Abad police denied the attack, an Ata-Meken spokesman told the news Web site Ferghana that police have not questioned Sopuyev who sustained a concussion, according to local press reports.

Sopuyev’s beating comes on the heels of threats against other provincial journalists.

Sergei Vysotsky, editor-in-chief of the independent, weekly Novaya Gazeta (not affiliated with Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta) based in the provincial capital of Karakol, and local correspondent for Bishkek-based news agency 24, said anonymous callers warned him not to cover “negative events” or “opposition speeches” in the region, the Public Association Journalist reported. Vysotsky told CPJ he was also harassed by security agents, who visited his office several times.

Erkin Kozhodeldiyev, editor of the weekly Zhany Zaman Akyikaty in the southwestern city of Osh, told CPJ he has been receiving telephone death threats since February when he published several articles critical of local authorities.

Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan have called for mass anti-government protests on April 11 to demand President Bakiyev’s resignation.