Kyrgyzstan - Local authorities take over Osh TV after national security raid and director's dismissal

Reporters Without Borders is worried about the provisional government’s takeover of nearly all of Kyrgyzstan’s TV stations and the procedures being used to nationalise them. Osh TV, an Uzbek language station based in Osh, the capital of southern Kyrgyzstan, is a case in point. The government has acquired a controlling interest in its shares and has arbitrarily fired its director.

All of the country’s major broadcasters have been “temporarily” nationalised since May under a law that was passed on 7 April. Fifth Channel, Pyramida TV, NBT and NTS have all already been nationalised in a similar fashion to Osh TV, which stopped all broadcasting a week ago.

Osh TV and Mezon TV provided live coverage (without comment) of a meeting of the Uzbek community in Jalal-Abad (a city near Osh) in May at which the participants discussed their representation in Kyrgyzstan’s governing bodies and the possibility of creating an autonomous Uzbek republic in the south of the country.

The meeting enraged the Kyrgyz community, prompting the provisional government’s decision on 20 May to send troops to curb the rioting. After covering the attacks and pogroms in Osh, Osh TV was shut down for two weeks by the city’s mayor, Melisbek Myrzakmatov. Other privately-owned stations such as Mezon TV, Pyramidy and DDD were also suspended, while the national broadcast media were able to continue broadcasting without any problem.

Osh TV had just resumed broadcasting when it was raided by armed members of the State Service for National Security (GSNB) on 9 July. After a thorough search, they seized some its computers and archives (disks containing video recordings). They also arrested Khalil Khudoybedyev, who has run the station for the past 20 years, interrogated him for several hours and confiscated his mobile phone.

He was released later the same day and no charges (such as “inciting inter-ethnic hatred”) were brought against him. He said the authorities just asked him questions about the size of his family and ages of his children. No explanation was given for his subsequent dismissal and his current location is being kept a secret for security reasons.

A new director, Kamil Sydykov, has been appointed but Osh TV has yet to resume broadcasting. The news website said the city authorities, including Mayor Myrzakmatov, would participate in the “transfer” of control from the previous director (an ethnic Uzbek) to its new director (an ethnic Kyrgyz).

Reporters Without Borders is shocked by Khudoybedyev’s interrogation, which seems above all to have been designed to intimidate, and condemns the raid by GSNB agents, who cited no charges or investigation that would justify the search and seizures, and who did not have any warrant authorising them to detain and interrogate the station’s director. As no charge was brought against him, his mobile phone and the confiscated equipment must be returned.

After meeting with Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic gave a news conference in Bishkek yesterday in which she mentioned the problems encountered by journalists in the south of the country but refused to give her evaluation of the press freedom situation, saying the country was currently experiencing one of the darkest moments in its history.

Reporters Without Borders regrets that Mijatovic did not say whether she had raised the murders of Kyrgyz opposition journalists during her meeting with the president. She did however mention this important issue when she addressed an OSCE commission meeting in Helsinki on the subject of threats to press freedom in OSCE member countries.