Kyrgyz authorities must stop rise in attacks against press

New York, December 16, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an end to the unrelenting wave of unsolved attacks on journalists in Kyrgyzstan.

In two separate cases on Tuesday, a journalist was beaten and a newspaper received a bullet in an envelope along with threatening notes, according to local news reports. Last week, several other journalists and political analysts who contribute to Russian media received anonymous letters urging them to stop reporting and leave Kyrgyzstan, the independent news Web site Gazeta reported.  

Two men in police uniforms attacked and threatened Aleksandr Yevgrafov, a Bishkek correspondent for the Russian news agency BaltInfo, the independent regional news Web site Ferghana reported. According to Ferghana, the attackers told Yevgrafov: “If you keep writing bad things about Kyrgyzstan, we are going to find you.” Yevgrafov sustained minor injuries and was not hospitalized; he did not report the incident to police, Ferghana said.

The same day, staffers at the state-sponsored newspaper Osh Shamy in the southern city of Osh found a holiday greeting card with an AK-47 bullet and two threatening notes inside in their lobby, the independent regional news Web site Voice of Freedom reported. One note said: “This is our holiday gift to you. The other bullets are still inside the gun’s magazine. For now consider this the most humane approach.” Kubanychbek Zholdoshev, an Osh Shamy reporter who was brutally beaten in early November, told CPJ that local police opened a probe into the incident.

“We are appalled by the rise in threats and violence against independent and critical journalists and call on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately put an end to this vicious cycle of attacks on the press,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We want the highest authorities to investigate the serious allegations that police officers in uniform attacked Aleksandr Yevgrafov.”

Yevgrafov told Ferghana that two men in police uniform stopped him on the street, asked for his ID, and told him to come over to the car. When he refused, one of them punched Yevgrafov into the abdomen, after which he was forced into the vehicle, where they tried to search him and punched him again. According to Ferghana, the assailants kept Yevgrafov in the car for about 20 minutes. Yevgrafov said he did not identify himself as a journalist to his assailants.

Voice of Freedom reported that the bullet found at Osh Shamy was wrapped in a note that read: “Here, smell this. This is some strong ‘medicine’ to clear your brains. Don’t forget that you’re in the crosshairs. So, think this through!! Enough of you.”

According to the local press, Osh police are investigating the incident, but Zholdoshev said that investigators are not showing much interest in the case. Zholdoshev told CPJ that police did not report any progress in investigating his beating in November, nor have they visited his newsroom or talked to his colleagues. Police have dismissed his journalism as a motive for the attack and have qualified his case as an act of hooliganism; an official statement declared that Zholdoshev was drunk at the time and was beaten by thugs while “seeking his way home.” Zholdoshev told CPJ that he and his editor received threatening text messages two weeks after he was attacked.

This week’s attack on Yevgrafov and threats against Osh Shamy come on the heels of intimidation against several journalists and political analysts. Gazeta reported that a number of local contributors to Russian news outlets received the same anonymous, threatening letter in early December. Referring to an earlier attack in Bishkek on Russian political analyst Aleksandr Knyazev, the note said: “Knyazev did not listen to our first warning. Listen, we warn you. All of you … must leave our Kyrgyzstan and stop meddling in our lives.”

Violent attacks committed against the press with impunity have been on the rise in Kyrgyzstan since the murder in October 2007 of Alisher Saipov, editor of the independent Uzbek-language newspaper Siyosat. In March, several assailants beat, and stabbed Syrgak Abdyldayev, a political reporter with the independent newspaper Reporter-Bishkek. Abdyldayev continued to receive threats after the attack and has fled the country. In May, three unknown men who identified themselves as police officers attacked and beat Yrysbek Omurzakov, editor of the independent newspaper Tribuna, in Bishkek. A month later, four unidentified men badly beat Abduvahab Moniyev, deputy editor of the pro-opposition Kyrgyz-language biweekly Achyk Sayasat. Most recently, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan rejected an appeal for a new probe into Saipov’s assassination.