Armed plain-clothes police temporarily seize independent news agency

Published on 20 April 2010

Members of the Kyrgyz counter-espionage service temporarily overran the office of independent news agency in Bishkek on 15 April, eight days after the revolt that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Journalists said armed men, led by Aspekov Talant, the head of the service, stormed into the office and, without giving any reason, announced that they were closing the news agency and shutting down its website.

A group of human rights activists led by interim deputy prime minister Omurbek Tekebayev put a stop to the operation and the interior minister quickly apologised for the raid on behalf of the interim government and the intelligence services.

Reporters Without Borders hopes that the new interim government will adhere to its promises to respect media freedom and pluralism.

13.04.2010 Media situation since rioting erupted six days ago

The current situation of the media in Kyrgyzstan reflects the confusion and uncertainty that has prevailed in the country as a whole since the unrest that allowed the opposition to seize power six days ago. Although the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has fled the capital, he is still refusing to stand down.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) resumed local broadcasting on the FM waveband yesterday after being banned for two years by the Bakiyev government and can now be received by most of the population.

This good news was offset by the – hopefully only temporary – return of censorship. The news website reported on 10 April that representatives of the new government led by Roza Otunbayeva censored broadcasts by the five main TV stations, in particular, a program in which the mayor of Bishkek was defending himself against charges brought against by the new leaders.

This disturbing and regrettable development appears nonetheless to have been quickly brought to an end by the interim government because programming was back to normal today.

President Bakiyev was widely criticised for violating free expression and harassing both the local and international media. The country’s new leaders must now demonstrate their legitimacy and their ability to protect the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens, or else they will be regarded as usurpers rather than liberators.

Reporters Without Borders therefore urges interim President Otunbayeva to ensure that the media are able to operate freely. The new authorities must aconsult with the representatives of the media and local press freedom organisations in order to show that they are ready to respect press freedom.

It would be tragic if Kyrgyzstan were to follow the example of its worst neighbours, such as Uzbekistan, where the only reports the media carried about the situation in Kyrgyzstan were those provided by the Kyrgyz foreign ministry. Uzbekistan’s dictatorial and unpopular rulers clearly fear that the spirit of revolt could spread across the border.

The unrest of the past six days in Kyrgyzstan gave rise to problems for the media, especially on 7 and 8 April. The broadcasts of several TV stations (KTR, Pyatyi Kanal, Pyramida and NBT) were briefly interrupted on 7 April when demonstrators overran the headquarters of the Kyrgyz state broadcaster. Several journalists were also injured or physically attacked.

Alisher Toksonbayev of Azattyk and Aybek Abdyldayev of the BBC were physically attacked by three unidentified men in the southern region of Osh on 7 April. Tallin Ulu Kanybek, a cameraman working for local TV station NBT, was shot in the hand on 7 April but resumed working after being treated in a hospital.

Sergei Medvedev, a photographer working for the newspaper Vechernyi Bishkek, was injured by a rubber bullet on 7 April while the Reuters Central Asia correspondent, Shamil Zhumatov, was hospitalised after being attacked by demonstrators, and The Times correspondent Toni Hellin was given a beating on suspicion of spying for Russia. Looters robbed a crew working for the Russian TV station Piatyi Kanal during the night of 7 April.

Other journalists and media were prevented from working. Radio Ekho, the Bishkek-based partner of the Russian station Ekho Moskvy, was unable to broadcast from 5 to 8 April, when the former president agreed to give it an interview. correspondent Pavel Gromskiy had similar problems and was refused an interview with the governor of Osh on 8 April.