A police officer is seen in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 24, 2022. Authorities recently applied to shutter the local branch of RFE/RL. (AFP/Vyacheslav Oseledko)

Kyrgyzstan authorities seek to shutter local branch of RFE/RL

Stockholm, January 23, 2023 – In response to news reports that authorities in Kyrgyzstan have applied to a court to shut down Radio Azattyk, the local service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement condemning the move:

“Radio Azattyk is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent and respected news outlets and shuttering its office would be a dark stain on the country’s press freedom record,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Kyrgyz authorities should withdraw their application to close Radio Azattyk, unblock the outlet’s websites, unfreeze its bank accounts, and cease all attempts to silence the media.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture, Information, Sport, and Youth Policy applied to the Lenin District Court in the capital, Bishkek, to terminate Radio Azattyk’s operations, according to those news reports and a copy of the ministry’s petition, which CPJ reviewed. The petition did not include a date specifying when it was filed. The reports say Radio Azattyk was notified of the move on Monday, January 23, and a hearing is scheduled for February 8.

When requesting the termination, authorities cited a September 16, 2022, video report by the U.S. funded broadcaster Current Time TV, a joint project of RFE/RL and Voice of America, published on Radio Azattyk’s website, about a border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The ministry’s petition alleged that the video violated a ban on “propaganda of war, violence, and cruelty, national or religious exclusiveness, and intolerance of other peoples and nations.”

Kyrgyz authorities have blocked Radio Azattyk’s website since October over the same video, and issued a freeze on the outlet’s bank accounts under the country’s money laundering laws.

On February 8, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture told CPJ by email that it was unable to comment on the case pending expert analysis of the video or a court judgement.

Editor’s note: The final paragraph has been updated with a response from the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture.