Newspaper suspended, TV station raided in Kyrgyzstan

New York, April 2, 2010—Authorities in Kyrgyzstan should halt their ongoing crackdown on independent and opposition news outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A Bishkek court suspended a pro-opposition newspaper on Wednesday—the third such suspension this month—while financial police confiscated newsroom computers belonging to an independent Web-based television channel on Thursday, effectively taking it off the air.

“We are deeply disturbed by the actions of Kyrgyz authorities to systematically unplug their citizens from independent and opposition news sources,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

On Wednesday, the Oktyabrsky District Court in Bishkek suspended the pro-opposition, Kyrgyz-language newspaper Forum, according to the regional news Web site Ferghana. The court acted on a complaint filed by the Oktyabrsky District Prosecutor’s Office in Bishkek, which said a March 30 Forum article contained “appeals to forcibly overthrow the constitutional order,” the Bishkek-based news agency AKIpress reported.

Prosecutors are continuing to investigate the paper in connection with the piece, titled “When the motherland falls upon hard times, may all her sons turn into lightning bolts,” said Sultan Kanazarov, Ferghana’s Kyrgyzstan bureau chief. Forum has been suspended for the duration of that investigation, he said.

The shutdown follows the March 18 suspensions of two other Kyrgyz-language newspapers, Achyk Sayasat (Open Politics) and Nazar (Viewpoint). The Pervomaisky District Court in Bishkek ordered the suspension of both publications while it hears complaints that they insulted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The case stems from a March 16 article by an exiled opposition activist, carried by both papers, in which he accused the president of corruption, nepotism, and failure to address pressing social and economic issues.

On Thursday, financial police raided the Bishkek headquarters of the independent Web-based television outlet Stan TV, confiscating all newsroom computers and staffers’ personal laptops. Authorities then sealed the outlet’s premises, the local and international press reported. Police claimed the raid was prompted by suspicions that the outlet was using unlicensed Microsoft software. CPJ research shows that authorities in the region have often used such allegations as a pretense to harass critical news outlets.

At a Bishkek press conference today, Stan TV General Director Ilya Sivokhin said police officers did not produce a warrant or say who ordered the action. “This is a revenge for our reports about the opposition, for our reporting about what is really happening in the country,” Kirill Stepanyuk, Stan TV’s chief editor, told Reuters.

Stan TV, Forum, Achyk Sayasat, and Nazar have all carried reporting and commentary critical of Bakiyev and his government. So too had the Kyrgyz service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which was recently forced off local stations, and the independent regional news Web sites Ferghana and CentrAsia, which were blocked domestically this month.

All of the outlets had reported on a March opposition convention, at which representatives demanded that Bakiyev dismiss his relatives from government positions, and that the government lower electricity and heating costs. The oppositionists said they would hold mass protests on April 7 if their demands were not met, according to the local press