Kyrgyzstan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

64

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

22

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

20

Kyrgyzstan experienced major political upheaval in 2005 with the fall of President Askar Akayev on March 24. However, initial gains for press freedom have not seen sufficient follow-through, and the new authorities have squandered time on infighting. Worrying signs of instability, including high-profile contract killings, continue to pose a threat to media freedom. Freedom of speech is protected by law in Kyrgyzstan, and censorship is strictly prohibited, though frequently engaged in. Libel is considered a criminal offense and is often punished with crippling fines, but many of the 37 "honor" suits that were filed before March have since been dropped, including 4 lawsuits pending since 2004 that were brought against the private daily Vecherniy Bishkek by the ombudsman.

In the period before March, Kyrgyzstan's media environment witnessed abuses similar to those in years past, with selective enforcement of laws and various forms of state control over the media that undermined constitutional guarantees of press freedom. Negative tendencies accelerated in the lead-up to the February 27 parliamentary elections. President Akayev threatened a lawsuit against the independent newspaper Moya Stolitsa Novosti after it published an article on his family's business interests. The state and structures close to the presidential family maintained control over nationwide broadcast media, which provided biased coverage in the run-up to elections. In the week before first-round voting in February, the authorities cut off power to the country's only independent printing house, which published a number of opposition newspapers. When police broke up a protest in Bishkek in March, they attacked Azamat Kalman, head of a journalists union, who had been covering the incident. As demonstrations raged in central Bishkek on March 24, state television (KTR) showed nature documentaries instead of covering events, and it was only after Akayev and KTR management had ceded political control that opposition leaders were able to appear on KTR.

Incoming president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the group of former opposition figures who formed the new government-many of whom, it should be noted, at one time occupied official posts under Akayev-pledged far-ranging media reforms, including the privatization of state-owned media, the conversion of state television to public television, and a new media law. In a symbolic move, Zamira Sydykova, one of the country's most famous independent journalists, was appointed ambassador to the United States. But while overt harassment of opposition and independent media diminished after the fall of the Akayev regime, reforms moved ahead slowly and little progress was made on the legislative reform plans, while political tensions continued to penetrate the media. In May and June, officials reportedly denied media access to Uzbek refugees in southern Kyrgyzstan. On at least two occasions after Akayev's fall, national television canceled talk shows because of content, including one show in July featuring then prosecutor general Azimbek Beknazarov, who joined the opposition to the new government after he was dismissed in September. In November, the new prosecutor general, Kambaraly Kongantiev, called for government action against media outlets that "destabilize the situation in the country." In December, privately owned Pyramid TV was the target of a forcible takeover attempt amid allegations that officials from both former and current governments may have been behind the bid.

There are approximately 40 to 50 regularly printed newspapers and magazines, most of them private but not all independent. The president maintained control over most television stations, which provided biased coverage in the run-up to the election. The chairman of the state-owned Kyrgyz National Television and Radio Broadcast Corporation was appointed by the president, and his son-in-law owned Kyrgyz Public Educational Radio and Television. After the transition, the new government made plans to privatize the state-owned media and is currently in the process of restructuring two public newspapers but has yet to implement the promised reforms in the broadcast media. Personnel policy at media outlets sparked protests under the new government. In one incident, staff at KOORT, a public radio and television company, went on strike in October over pressures from the new management to praise the Bakiyev regime. Uchkun, the state-owned printing house, continued to be the primary method of publication in the country throughout the year, but in 2004 a U.S.-sponsored printing house (operated by Freedom House) broke the monopoly and began to provide publishers with an alternative printing option. Foreign media are allowed to operate freely within the country; however, foreign ownership of domestic media outlets is prohibited. The internet is available in just a few places in the country, and only 5 percent of the Kyrgyz population accesses the internet on a regular basis. During the elections, several opposition websites were blocked or attacked, and opposition leaders and journalists were harassed with spam e-mail attempting to discredit journalists.