In Kyrgyzstan, U.S. journalist deported, his sources harassed

New York, March 30, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces the deportation from Kyrgyzstan on Saturday of American freelancer Umar Farooq, who was detained and interrogated by Kyrgyz security services last week, according to news reports.

According to press reports, Farooq was detained by police in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday morning, interrogated for several hours, then transferred to the custody of the local security service, the GKNB. Reports said he was held on suspicion of possessing documents of extremist nature. According to regional news website Fergana, Farooq was in Kyrgyzstan to report on the 2010 ethnic clashes in the region. The freelance journalist writes for publications including The Los Angeles Times, IRIN News agency, and The Daily Beast, according to his website.

Conditions for the press, particularly in south Kyrgyzstan, have deteriorated in the aftermath of ethnic clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the summer of 2010, CPJ research shows. Many Uzbeks fled the region to escape the violence, independent media outlets were shut down, and at least two media owners were forced into exile to avoid politically motivated prosecution, according to CPJ research and news reports. A CPJ special report documented how 2012 International Press Freedom Awardee Azimjon Askarov, who reported on human rights violations purportedly carried out by authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan–before and during the 2010 clashes–is serving a life-term in prison in retaliation for his independent coverage.

“The detention and expulsion of Umar Farooq underscores that Kyrgyz authorities have no tolerance for independent journalism,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Kyrgyzstan to allow members of the press to report in the country without fear of reprisal and to stop harassing sources, such as Bir Duino, which should have all of its confiscated equipment returned.”

The Kyrgyz service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported today that Farooq was detained after meeting with representatives of the Osh branch of Bir Duino, (One World)– a group that documents corruption and human rights violations and provides legal support to victims–as part of his research on religious extremism in the region.

During Farooq’s detention, GKNB agents on Friday raided Bir Duino’s offices and homes of two of the organization’s lawyers, and confiscated computers, flash drives, voice recorders, and other reporting equipment on suspicion of extremism and as part of the investigation into Farooq’s activities, according to a Bir Duino statement and reports. Farooq was detained in connection with materials he received from Bir Duino, regional press reports said. Equipment confiscated in the raid has not yet been returned, Bir Duino said in a press release.

Farooq was kept in GKNB detention until Saturday, when he appeared before Osh City Court, local reports said. He was not charged with criminal activity but the court said during the hearing that Farooq had been reporting on religious extremism without proper accreditation and would be deported. He left Kyrgyzstan the same day, according to his post on Twitter.