Kyrgyzstan must disclose findings in Alisher Saipov murder

New York, October 22, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Kyrgyz authorities to make public the findings of their investigation into the murder of Alisher Saipov, left, the editor of the Uzbek-language newspaper Siyosat, who was shot in Osh two years ago. Continued impunity in the killing, which occurred in early evening in the city’s downtown district, has fostered fear among his colleagues and undermined trust in the government’s ability to enforce the law.

An unidentified gunman shot Saipov three times on October 24, 2007, in Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan that borders Uzbekistan. Since 2007, Kyrgyz authorities have made repeated public promises to solve the journalist’s murder—even as they have issued confusing and contradictory statements about the investigation, CPJ research shows.

An ethnic Uzbek, Saipov reported on human rights abuses in neighboring Uzbekistan. Besides editing Siyosat, he contributed reporting to the U.S. government-funded broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, along with the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the independent regional news Web sites Ferghana and Uznews.

“Kyrgyz authorities should demonstrate their will to enforce the law in Alisher Saipov’s murder by publicizing the findings of their investigation,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “The country’s image and commitment to press freedom and the rule of law are at stake.”

In April, Kyrgyz Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev announced that investigators had found and identified the murder weapon. Speaking to members of the Kyrgyz parliament, Kongantiyev said tests showed that bullet casings from that gun—which detectives reportedly found on a drug dealer they detained in February in southern Kyrgyzstan—matched those found at the scene of Saipov’s killing, Ferghana reported. 

Yet the reported suspect has not been publicly identified or charged in the murder, and authorities have released no details concerning his supposed role or the evidence against him. The development also appears at odds with earlier statements in the case. Interior Ministry officials said in 2007 and 2008 that they had already found the murder weapon in Bishkek. At the time, police showed the local press a photo of two unidentified men they called suspects in Saipov’s killing. It remains unclear whether those men were ever detained.

Another major question in the investigation concerns the status and whereabouts of an eyewitness to Saipov’s shooting. Ikbol Mirsaitov, a political analyst, was walking next to Saipov when the journalist was shot and killed, according to CPJ sources. Mirsaitov was taken into police custody for questioning on October 24, 2007, according to CPJ sources, but he has not surfaced publicly since.

Avaz Saipov, the journalist’s father, told CPJ that he went to the regional police department in June to seek information. He said officers informed him that they have finished the investigation and a local court would soon review the case. On July 29, an Osh City Court judge indeed reviewed the case but found insufficient evidence to proceed and returned the file to investigators for further work, said Saipov, who attended the hearing.

Yet on August 6, shortly after the court had ordered additional investigation, Kongantiyev reported to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev that investigators had completed their work and the case was in court, according to the official presidential Web site.

Avaz Saipov told CPJ that authorities have not volunteered any information about the investigation to his family. What the family knows, he said, has come from press reports or from his own research and inquiries. Most disturbing, Saipov told CPJ, is that “investigators told me in private I should forget about the case and live my life.”

“Investigators have a moral obligation to inform Alisher Saipov’s family of developments in the case,” CPJ’s Ognianova said. “It is shameful that the father of a murder victim must, on his own, seek out basic information on the case.”