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Kyrgyz Demand to Censor RFE/RL Signals New Democratic Low
Freedom House is deeply disturbed by the Kyrgyzstan government's decision to suspend transmission of Radio Azattyk, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service, until it submits its programs for prior approval. The demand came Monday from Melis Eshimkanov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's state-controlled broadcaster, who said the station’s programs were "too negative and too critical" of the government.
"When faced with an ailing and deeply corrupt economy and countrywide power cuts, the best the Kyrgyzstani government can do is crack down on one of the most reliable, independent sources of information in the country," said Jeff Goldstein, Freedom House senior program manager for Central Asia. "This clumsy attempt at censorship is unfortunate and ultimately self-defeating."
Kyrgyzstan earned a downward trend arrow for the last two years in Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. After a brief opening following the March 2005 Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyzstan's government has moved to consolidate power in the hands of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, his relatives and close supporters, restrict freedom of association and silence critics. This announcement marks a major escalation in an ongoing campaign against independent journalism that has included violence, intimidation and crude attempts by the government to impose censorship.
"This latest attack on press freedom clearly signals that with domestic problems mounting Kyrgyzstan's leadership is increasingly responding in an authoritarian manner," said Goldstein.
Nearly half the Kyrgyz population tunes into Radio Azattyk's popular programming, which includes two weekly television news shows, "Inconvenient Questions" and the youth-targeted "Azattyk Plus". The government suspended transmission October 8, a week after censoring a show on local elections.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked Partly Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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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 1991.
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