Crackdown on Freedom of Speech in Kyrgyzstan Unacceptable; U.S. Must Convey its Concern

Washington, D.C.

Early this morning, Kyrgyz security officers arrived at the Media Support Center Foundation in Bishkek and confiscated the press runs of two independent Kyrgyz newspapers, Freedom House said today.

Under written orders from the Prosecutor General’s Office, thirty armed security officers arrived at the Foundation at approximately 5:00 a.m. and confiscated all copies of two Kyrgyz-language papers, Agym and Kyrgyz Rukhu, both of which have been critical of the current government. The Kyrgyz security forces also took the printing plates for the papers and demanded that the newspapers’ electronic files be deleted. Security officers on site explained that the confiscation was in response to the demonstrations that had been taking place in Kyrgyzstan since April 11.

Alarmed, Freedom House sent a letter today to Secretary Rice, urging her to contact the Kyrgyz government and convey her concern that this action violates fundamental elements of freedom of expression and democracy.

“Freedom House is extremely distressed by this serious violation of freedom of the press,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. “The Media Support Center Foundation operates the only independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan, and its muffling means that the government has resorted to censorship in its attempt to maintain order.”

Agym is a 16-page, full color newspaper with a normal circulation of approximately 20,000, though press runs during the protests of the last three weeks have been close to 60,000. Kyrgyz Rukhu is an eight-page newspaper with a usual circulation of about 2,000.

Demonstrations protesting the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev have been occurring in Bishkek for the past nine days. Yesterday the protests turned violent and dozens of activists were arrested. Security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

“The security officers’ visit to the printing press this morning and the confiscation of independent newspapers may be part of a larger—and increasing—crackdown on opposition voices throughout Kyrgyzstan,” wrote Ms. Windsor in the letter to Secretary Rice. “We strongly urge the government to respect the rule of law, and ask both it and the opposition to utilize only nonviolent methods.”

The Media Support Center Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, operates the printing press that allows independent newspapers to circulate in Kyrgyzstan. The work of the Foundation is overseen by a Supervisory Committee, chaired by a British Member of Parliament, Martin Callanan, which sent a letter directly to President Bakiyev today, conveying its concern about the newspapers’ confiscation.

Freedom House has served in an advisory capacity to the Media Support Center Foundation since its inception. 

Kyrgyzstan ranks as Partly Free in the 2007 edition of Freedom House’s annual survey, Freedom in the World. The country received a rating of 5 (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the lowest) for political rights and a 4 for civil liberties, and was also given a downward trend arrow as a result of renewed authoritarianism on the part of the president.

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Kyrgyzstan since it became an independent country in 1991.

For more information on Kyrgyzstan, visit:

Freedom in the World 2007: Kyrgyzstan
Nations in Transit 2006: Kyrgyzstan
Freedom of the Press 2006:  Kyrgyzstan

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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