Kyrgyz government blocks access to news website

New York, February 23, 2012–The Kyrgyz government’s decision to block access to the independent news website Ferghana News contradicts the country’s declared commitment to press freedom and should be overturned immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Kyrgyzstan’s largest Internet provider, the state-controlled Kyrgyztelecom, has blocked domestic access to the Moscow-based website since Monday, Daniil Kislov, the editor of Ferghana News, told CPJ. Up to 50 percent of Internet users in Kyrgyzstan use Kyrgyztelecom to connect to the Web, the journalist said. Kislov also told CPJ that since authorities had already urged other Internet service providers to block the website, Ferghana News might soon be completely inaccessible domestically.

Kyrgyztelecom told Ferghana News that Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov had ordered the blocking of the website. News accounts reported that a June 2011 parliament resolution, following an investigation into the causes and developments surrounding the June 2010 ethnic conflict, urged the government to block the website. The resolution did not offer any explanation for the decision, CPJ research shows. In addition, there was no court order for the blocking, as required by the country’s media law, Kislov told CPJ.

In an interview with the Kyrgyz service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, parliament member Tokon Mamytov said that Ferghana News had published materials that spread ethnic and religious strife in Kyrgyzstan, and that the site’s coverage of the country’s events was mostly negative and discredited the ethnic Kyrgyz people. Mamytov denied that the resolution violated freedom of speech, RFE/RL reported.

“This is a deeply disturbing assault on Internet freedom where yet again an authoritarian government gets an Internet service provider to do its censorship dirty work,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The Kyrgyz authorities must immediately restore access to Ferghana News.

Ferghana News has long been at odds with Kyrgyz authorities. In March 2010, authorities blocked the website after it reported on government corruption and human rights abuses in Kyrgyzstan, but denied doing so, according to CPJ research. This is the first time the government has issued written orders to block the website, CPJ research shows.