Independent editor beaten in Bishkek

New York, May 13, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Kyrgyz authorities to detain, charge, and prosecute three men who attacked Yrysbek Omurzakov, editor of the independent newspaper Tribuna, in the capital, Bishkek, last week.

On May 7, at around 5 p.m., two sedans blocked Omurzakov’s marked press vehicle at an intersection near his office, the editor told CPJ. Omurzakov said he had stopped at a traffic light when three unknown men jumped out of the vehicles, grabbed the editor and pulled him out of the car. He said the attackers identified themselves as police officers and shouted, “Beat all journalists.” Omurzakov told CPJ the attack happened on a busy, downtown street, in front of numerous witnesses, including traffic police in a nearby car. Omurzakov said the traffic officers did not intervene.

The attackers, believed to be in their mid-20s, hit the 51-year-old editor with their fists and kicked him repeatedly in the head and stomach, Omurzakov said. They left the scene after Omurzakov fell to the ground and several passersby approached, he told CPJ. Omurzakov said he was treated for a concussion and severe bruises and is recovering at home.

“We condemn this attack on Yrysbek Omurzakov and call on Kyrgyz authorities to investigate it thoroughly and effectively,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The assailants’ brazen behavior demonstrates their certainty that they can act with impunity. Responsible officials should prove them wrong.”

Omurzakov edits the twice-monthly newspaper Tribuna, which is known for its sharp criticism of local authorities, particularly those in law enforcement. Articles in Tribuna have exposed wrongdoing among Kyrgyz Interior Ministry officials and have prompted official investigations. Said Ulugbek Babakulov, editor of the Kyrgyzstan edition of the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets: “Omurzakov’s newspaper is one of the sharpest and the most critical in Bishkek. People lose their high positions after his stories.”

On May 8, Omurzakov told the Bishkek Press Club, in a report published on its Web site, that taxi drivers at a nearby stand had taken down the license plates of the assailants’ vehicles, a Mercedes and a Volkswagen. Omurzakov said police apparently identified one of the assailants immediately after the attack. Disturbingly, Omurzakov told the Bishkek Press Club, police tried to persuade him to not press charges against the assailant, saying the man had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

The attack is second in three months against a journalist in Kyrgyzstan. In March, an unidentified attacker stabbed Syrgak Abdyldayev, a political reporter and commentator with the independent newspaper Reporter-Bishkek 12 times and broke his arm after the journalist criticized the government’s economic policies.