Kyrgyzstan must drop charges against journalist

New York, February 29, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in Kyrgyzstan to drop politically motivated extremism charges against independent journalist Vladimir Farafonov.

Investigators with Kyrgyzstan’s security service, the KNB, charged Farafonov on February 12 with inciting ethnic hatred through media, a count that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment, according to news reports. His trial is scheduled to start on Thursday in the capital, Bishkek, the independent regional news website Ferghana News reported.

Farafonov denied the accusations, and said he was being prosecuted in retaliation for his journalism, regional press reports said. He had written a series of analytical articles for the website of the Moscow-based foundation Russkoye Yedinstvo (Russian Unity), and for regional news websites CentrAsia, NewsAsia, and Parus, according to Ferghana News. In his articles, the journalist criticized Kyrgyz politics and the spread of nationalism in the Kyrgyz-language media, and commented on the potential outcomes of the October 2011 presidential vote on the lives of ethnic minorities, including Russians, in Kyrgyzstan, news reports said.

KNB spokesperson Nurlan Toktaliyev told the independent news website that the KNB had contacted experts from the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, as well as Internet users, and asked them to review the journalist’s articles. The indictment was based on their review, news reports said. Kyrgyz ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, called the charges unfair, and told that the journalist had a constitutional right to express his opinion.

At a February 22 press conference in Bishkek, Farafonov told local journalists that the KNB threatened to imprison him for up to 48 years or give him a maximum sentence for each of the 16 articles the investigators deemed extremist, local press reported.

“This is a deeply sinister case where the secret police can decide what a journalist can and cannot write,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The prosecution must immediately drop all charges against Vladimir Farafonov. Political reporting is not a crime.”