Kazakh police: Kyrgyz citizens suspected in editor’s killing

New York, December 29, 2009Police in Kazakhstan said Monday that they have identified several suspects in this month’s murder of prominent Kyrgyz editor Gennady Pavlyuk. Police did not identify the suspects or describe their alleged roles, other than to say the suspects are citizens of neighboring Kyrgyzstan. In a statement today, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s office said it had not yet received information from its Kazakh counterparts and had no other comment. 

“We are encouraged by the expeditious actions of Kazakh authorities in identifying suspects in the murder of Gennady Pavlyuk and urge them to publicize the details of their investigation,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “This investigation will not succeed without bilateral cooperation. We call on Kazakh investigators to coordinate efforts with their Kyrgyz counterparts, and we urge the government of Kyrgyzstan to assist to the fullest extent.”

Pavlyuk, 40, who used the pen name Ibragim Rustambek, died in a hospital in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on December 22, six days after plummeting from an upper-story window of an apartment building in the city. His hands and legs were bound with tape, the Kazakhstan Interior Ministry said.

Pavlyuk, an ethnic Russian, was described by colleagues as one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent journalists. He had traveled from Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, to Almaty on December 16 for business, according to colleagues, although the exact purpose remains unclear. Some local news reports said Pavlyuk intended to start a pro-opposition online publication and had traveled to Almaty to meet with potential partners. Other reports suggested Pavlyuk was in the city to report on a car-theft ring.

A veteran reporter, editor, and political analyst, Pavlyuk had headed the Kyrgyz bureaus of the Russian newspapers Argumenty i Fakty and Komsomolskaya Pravda before founding the independent Kyrgyz newspaper Bely Parokhod. The publication was known for its examination of high-level corruption and its critical coverage of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, said Marat Tokoyev, head of the Kyrgyz press freedom group, Public Association Journalists. In recent months, however, Pavlyuk had focused his efforts on the launch of his own publication, CPJ sources said.

The New York Times reported that Pavlyuk had become politically active in the past year and had worked closely with Omurbek Tekebayev, a Kyrgyz opposition leader. Tekebayev told the Times he believed that the Kyrgyz security service had lured Pavlyuk to a meeting in a neighboring country with the intention of killing him. “They do that to avoid suspicion,” Tekebayev told the Times. “They do their activities outside of Kyrgyzstan.”

Bakiyev’s spokesman, Almaz Turdumamatov, denied the allegation. “It is unfortunate that this killing happened,” he told the Times. “But it is wrong to say that this was connected to any kind of political motivation.”

Pavlyuk was found unconscious early on the evening of December 16, sprawled on the overhang of an apartment building entrance. It was not immediately clear why Pavlyuk had gone to the building or whom he had met there. A police search of a sixth-floor apartment found a roll of tape, Pavlyuk’s jacket, a key for an Almaty hotel room that he had checked into earlier that day, and an empty laptop bag, the Kazakhstan Interior Ministry said. The windows in the apartment from which Pavlyuk apparently fell were not broken, the Kyrgyz news agency AKIpress said.

A security camera at the Almaty hotel captured images of Pavlyuk leaving with an unidentified man earlier in the day, AKIpress said. The Bishkek-based, independent daily MSN reported that an unknown man had visited the hotel a day before Pavlyuk checked in, reserved a room in the journalist’s name, and paid for a three-day stay. It was not clear whether this was the same man who left the hotel with the journalist on December 16.

Pavlyuk suffered heavy trauma caused by the fall, according to doctors at Almaty’s central city hospital, where the journalist was treated. Pavlyuk died without ever having regained consciousness, the independent Kazakh newspaper Respublika reported.