New York, June 29, 2017--Kyrgyzstan should drop all charges against the independent media organization ProMedia and its co-founder, Naryn Idinov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A Bishkek district court held three separate hearings today into charges of insult made against ProMedia, which runs the independent online news agency Zanoza, and Idinov who edits and writes for Zanoza, according to media reports.
The prosecutor-general filed five complaints earlier this year accusing ProMedia and Idinov of insulting the president in articles published on Zanoza between October 2015 and March 2017, according to reports. Prosecutors are demanding "moral compensation" of 27 million som (US$392,000) in total from ProMedia, including 9 million som from Idinov, the journalist told CPJ. On March 14, the courts ordered bank accounts for ProMedia to be frozen and on March 15 a lien was put on Idinov's Bishkek apartment, according to reports. Idinov is also under a travel ban.
All three hearings were adjourned until tomorrow, Idinov told CPJ. A fourth hearing is due to be held tomorrow against ProMedia and Idinov in a different district court and a fifth case, also on insult charges, is scheduled to be heard on July 3.
"Scheduling three separate court cases for one news outlet on the same day is harassment. The crackdown on ProMedia, Zanoza, and Naryn Idinov should stop immediately," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on Kyrgyz authorities to drop the charges, release all assets, and lift the travel ban against Idinov. Journalists in Kyrgyzstan must be allowed to work without fear of reprisal."
In between hearings today, Idinov told CPJ that he believes the cases are politically motivated. "Three different trials were held from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, with three different judges and we were the only defendant." Idinov said that they expect a guilty verdict will be handed down.
A copy of the prosecutors' files viewed by CPJ cites the following Zanoza articles as allegedly insulting the president:
- A February 2017 report on comments that opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev made, alleging that President Almazbek Atambayev is corrupt.
- An October 2015 article that quoted former President Askar Akayev, in which he alleged that Atambayev was involved in corruption.
- An October 2015 article that questioned Atambayev's lavish lifestyle.
- Two March 2017 articles that criticized the February arrest of Tekebayev.
- A March 2017 news report in which former parliament member Cholpon Jakupova criticized Atambayev's attacks on journalists.
An earlier court ruling ordered that all the cited articles be blocked on Zanoza, according to Idinov.
Tekebayev, the leader of the opposition Ata Meken party, was seen as a strong contender in October's elections when Atambayev is due to stand down as president. Authorities jailed Tekebayev in February, according to reports.
As well as the legal action against ProMedia, CPJ has documented in recent months how Atambayev verbally assaulted the media; charges have been brought against other critical journalists and outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); and authorities ignored a U.N. order to release imprisoned journalist Azimjon Askarov, who is serving a life sentence.