Freedom of Expression Under Siege in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has not met his pledge to enact far-ranging media reforms, including the privatization of state-owned media, the conversion of state television to public television, and a new media law, Freedom House asserted today.
Improvements in state control of the press contributed to Kyrgyzstan's change in rating from Not Free to Partly Free in Freedom House's "Freedom of the Press 2006" report, and overt harassment of opposition and independent media has decreased since President Akayev left office. However, other reforms have moved ahead slowly. A recent presidential decree to privatize state papers is a positive development, but other recent alarming events indicate a backsliding in freedoms of speech and the press in the country.
On April 12, 2006, prominent civil society representative Edil Baisalov, president of the Kyrgyz Coalition for Civil Society and Democracy, was seriously injured in an early evening attack near the General Prosecutor's office. Mr. Baisalov has been a vocal opponent of corruption and organized crime in government. Since this attack, other NGO activists reported being threatened and harassed as a result of their involvement in public events against organized crime and corruption.
In March 2006, the widely respected human rights defender Valentina Gritsenko, Mahamadjan Abdujaparov, a lawyer, and well known journalist Abdumalik Sharipov, were sued for libel by a Ministry of Interior official, who is seeking 1 million Kyrgyz soms (about $25,000), for publishing an article, "Women, Even Pregnant Ones, Being Beaten." The article alleged that the official tortured a pregnant woman and, in a separate case, extorted money from a citizen.
Earlier this year, there were also reports of a journalist being assaulted and threatened for reporting on torture. In December 2005, another law enforcement official initiated a criminal case for libel against a local activist. The case was later closed for failure to prosecute, after a number of advocacy initiatives highlighted the situation.
"The attack on Edil Baisalov, as well as prosecutions and acts against other activists and journalists, represents a very disturbing recent trend of increasingly severe methods being used to restrict free speech in Kyrgyzstan," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "These acts and the continuing criminalization of libel will have a chilling effect on independent media and others who are reporting on violations of political rights and civil liberties."
Ms. Gritsenko and Mr. Sharipov are members of the Voice of Freedom, a Kyrgyz human rights group affiliated with Freedom House.
This year, Freedom House improved Kyrgyzstan's political rights and civil liberties scores in its annual survey, Freedom in the World, due to the holding of reasonably free and competitive presidential elections and to modest improvements in civil society and freedom of expression. However, the survey, which covers events through November 30, 2005, noted that the country suffered from widespread corruption and a deterioration in the security situation.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored rights in Kyrgyzstan since independence in 1991, and has been working with human rights defenders in the country since 2002.
More background on Kyrgyzstan is available on the Freedom House website:
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.