Alisher Saipov (Ferghana News)
Alisher Saipov (Ferghana News)

Five years on, no resolution to Alisher Saipov’s murder

Five years ago today, press freedom in Kyrgyzstan received a deadly blow from which it has never recovered. Alisher Saipov, one of most promising and prominent regional reporters of his time, was murdered in his native city of Osh. Since that October night, authorities have promised to solve his killing, but impunity reigns to this day, Shohruh Saipov, his brother and also a journalist, told CPJ.

At the time of his murder, Saipov edited his own independent newspaper, Siyosat (Politics), but his resume was impressive for a 26-year-old reporter. In his short career, Saipov contributed to the BBC World Service, the U.S. government-funded outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Moscow-based regional news website Ferghana News.

All of these outlets capitalized on Saipov’s knowledge of the region, but his focus on human rights abuses brought him the most attention. An ethnic Uzbek, he refused to be a silent bystander to the grave human rights abuses in neighboring Uzbekistan, and fiercely criticized ongoing repression there. Published in Osh, Saipov’s Siyosat was slipped across the Uzbek border and distributed by hand in that tightly controlled country, his colleagues told CPJ.

But Saipov’s reporting also led to the brutal end to his life and career, the journalist’s family and colleagues told CPJ.

On October 24, 2007, around 7 p.m. , an unidentified man shot Saipov three times–first in his leg to immobilize him, then in the head, execution-style–as the editor was about to catch a taxi outside his newsroom. The killer used a gun fitted with a silencer.

Once the news spread outside Osh, authorities pledged to solve the murder. They had at least two aces in hand–Saipov’s critical journalism as the most credible motive, and a witness who could identify the killer. A local political expert, Ikbol Mirsaitov, was with the editor that evening and witnessed the murder. Authorities also seemed to have a will to solve the case.

Five years after the slaying, however, Saipov’s family–including daughter Zulaiho, born just weeks before her father was murdered–are still waiting for the Kyrgyz leadership to provide justice. Avaz Saipov, the journalist’s father, has long accused authorities of botching the investigation, and for good reason.

Investigators initially announced that Saipov’s journalism was a primary motive, and that they would probe accusations that Uzbek authorities were involved in the murder. A smear campaign against Saipov in the state-controlled Uzbek media preceded his slaying, and he reported receiving threats in connection to his critical reporting on Uzbekistan.

But no progress was reported. Instead, investigators changed their lead several times, pointing at the banned Islamic group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir–which Saipov covered–as among the potential executioners, and keeping the family in the dark about their work. Eventually, they shelved the case. Mirsaitov remained suspiciously silent, refusing to talk to Saipov’s family or journalists about the murder he witnessed. He has never visited the slain journalist’s family, Shohruh Saipov told CPJ.

In April 2009, authorities announced they had caught a killer, a local man named Abdufarit Rasulov, in whose car police allegedly found drugs and the gun used in Saipov’s murder. In court, Rasulov insisted that he did not know Saipov, had no reason to kill him, and that police planted both the gun and the drugs. A local court dismissed the evidence as insubstantial. But he was imprisoned nonetheless, after prosecutors–long interested in closing the case–successfully disputed the lower court’s ruling in the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, however, the same Supreme Court ruled that the case should be sent back for a review. Avaz Saipov, who carried out his own investigation and told CPJ that Rasulov was innocent, presented the court with exculpatory evidence of the alleged gunman’s involvement: video footage of Rasulov at a wedding on October 24, 2007, some 400 kilometers away from the murder scene.

The court ruling was announced in April, but as happened many times before, progress has stalled, Shohruh Saipov said. Authorities continue to keep the family in the dark, only informing them of the developments after repeated inquiries. Saipov’s latest information is that despite the ruling, Rasulov remains in jail, and no one has been assigned to review the case.