Photo courtesy of Ulugbek Babakulov
Photo courtesy of Ulugbek Babakulov

Kyrgyz journalist receives death threats

New York, June 1, 2017–Authorities in Kyrgyzstan should ensure the safety of independent journalist Ulugbek Babakulov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Babakulov, who has been the target of intense criticism from lawmakers and pro-government media since he criticized nationalist social media posts in an article last week, has received death threats on social media, according to his editor.

On May 23, Babakulov, who also contributes to the Kyrgyz news website Zanoza, wrote an article for the Moscow-based, regional news website Fergana analyzing Kyrgyz-language social media posts and concluding that they incited hatred against the country’s ethnic Uzbek minority, using ethnic slurs and urging the “slaughter” of ethnic Uzbeks and the establishment of a “pure” Kyrgyz state. On May 27, the state-owned Public Television and Radio Company (OTRK) broadcast a TV program that labeled Babakulov an “instigator of ethnic hatred” and an “enemy of Kyrgyzstan.”

Two days later, an article on the pro-government website branded Babakulov a “separatist.” Today, members of parliament urged the government to strip Babakulov of his citizenship, the news website reported.

“Kyrgyz authorities are responsible for freelance journalist Ulugbek Babakulov’s safety and for upholding his right to report and to express himself without fear of retaliation,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Kyrgyzstan’s security forces to investigate the threats to Babakulov’s life as serious crimes, and we call on Kyrgyz lawmakers to retract their calls to strip him of his citizenship.”

Daniil Kislov, chief editor of Fergana, told CPJ that he fears for Babakulov’s safety.

“Apart from many attacks in the Kyrgyz- and Russian-language, state-controlled, and pro-government media, Ulugbek has been receiving death threats on social media,” Kislov said. “He and his family have been under surveillance. Two days ago, unknown people came and photographed his house when Ulugbek was not at home. His wife got scared. We are afraid he is not safe.”

In a March 2017 open letter to Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev published on Fergana, Babakulov, who was born in Kyrgyzstan, criticized increased government pressure on independent media.

Atambayev has repeatedly criticized independent outlets, including Fergana and Zanoza. In March 2017, he specifically accused Babakulov and other journalists of “pouring dirt” on Kyrgyzstan in exchange for “foreign money.” The prosecutor general’s office filed criminal charges against Zanoza, two of its journalists, and the Kyrgyz-language service of the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on charges of “insulting the president,” according to CPJ research.