Kyrgyzstan: Restore Independent Printing Press
In the early morning hours of February 22, electrical power was cut off to a printing house operated by the Media Support Center Foundation, a Kyrgyz non-governmental organization. The press, which provides professional printing services to over sixty local and regional newspapers, was shut down shortly after Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev reacted publicly to media reports alleging that he and his family were tainted by corruption.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place February 27. According to Anthony Lake, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Media Support Center Foundation, the Foundation provides Kyrgyz citizens with a diverse array of publications and is strictly non-partisan in its operations, printing a range of commercial products and newspapers from the region. "This is an attack not only on a legitimate business operation, but also on democracy. The Foundation is operating in full compliance with the Kyrgyz laws. The press has an obligation to its customers, and it is not in the best interests of the Kyrgyz government to arbitrarily suspend legitimate business operations," said Mr. Lake.
Freedom House noted that the decision to shut down the press just before the elections was a political act. "This action raises concerns that the Kyrgyz government seeks to deny opposition newspapers and candidates a voice in the crucial pre-election period," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Shutting off the electrical power to the only independent printing press in the country is, in effect, an act of censorship."
President Akaev has accused the Kyrgyz media of "systematic information terror" and has declared his intention to file a criminal libel suit against the independent newspaper MSN, which is printed by the independent press.
"President Akaev, as an elected leader who should be protecting the rights of his own citizens, must be the first one to strengthen democratic values, including freedom of speech. We are concerned that these recent anti-democratic steps throw into question the Kyrgyz authorities' pledge to hold elections that meet international standards and that give the Kyrgyz people a genuine opportunity to express their will," said Ms. Windsor.
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.