Saipov’s murder investigation shut down again

New York, April 10, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the Kyrgyzstan authorities’ closure of the investigation into the October murder of Alisher Saipov, editor of the independent Uzbek-language weekly Siyosat (Politics). This is the second time authorities have officially closed the investigation in as many months.

The Saipov family told CPJ that the local bureau of the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee informed them on March 31 that the investigation into their son’s murder had been stopped due to “the inability to identify a suspect.” The family happened to learn about the closure of the case when they went to the police to inquire about the status of Saipov’s seized laptop. Authorities handed them a document dated March 31 that informed them about the end to the case.

Kyrgyz police had opened a murder probe immediately after the killing, and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had personally pledged his commitment to solving the case.

“We are shocked by the Kyrgyz authorities’ repeated closures of the investigation into Alisher Saipov’s murder, despite assurances of their commitment to solving the case,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “By refusing to fully investigate this killing, authorities are breaking their own pledge to solve it and sending a signal that journalists can be killed with impunity. We call on the investigators to reopen this case and bring those responsible to justice.”

Twenty-six-year-old Saipov, a Kyrgyz citizen of Uzbek ethnicity, was shot dead last October near his office in Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Saipov had covered Uzbekistan’s political and social issues for international broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, and the popular Russia-based Central Asia news Web site Ferghana.

CPJ sent a letter to Bakiyev in October, calling for a timely, independent, and transparent investigation. A week later, the Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States, Zamira Sydykova, told a CPJ delegation that the government was “fully committed” to investigating every lead in Saipov’s murder, and that it had committed some of its best investigators to the case. Sydykova pledged to take the delegation’s concerns to her superiors. CPJ requested that the investigation consider the possibility that Uzbek authorities were involved in this case.

But despite a promising start, there has been no progress in the investigation, and authorities have given confusing information on the case’s status. In late January, the Saipovs told CPJ that local police had informed them the probe had been shut down because the allotted one-month investigative period had expired. The Saipovs received an official notice the same day the deadline for appealing the cessation ended.

Shortly after, a police spokesman and the interior minister offered conflicting explanations. On February 4, Kyrgyz Interior Ministry press officer Olzhobai Kazabayev told RFE/RL that the investigation into Saipov’s killing had been halted “because the two suspected individuals had not been captured” and no other evidence had emerged. A week later, the newly appointed Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev gave a different explanation at a local press conference, and told journalists he would be assuming supervision of the newly reopened Saipov case.

On February 14, CPJ spoke with Marat Koshoyev, head of the defense and security department in Bakiyev’s office, and received yet a third explanation for the probe’s halt. Koshoyev told CPJ that the investigation had been stopped because the authorities were unable to identify the two alleged suspects. The next day, CPJ sent a written request to the Kyrgyz Ministry of the Interior, asking for the latest update on the case, but received no response.

Troubled by the lack of progress and concurrent release of conflicting accounts by Kyrgyz officials, CPJ sent another letter to Bakiyev on February 22, urging him to intervene in the investigation.