Threats against the press got worse in 2001. The goal (and result) of such enormous amounts of money demanded in libel suits is simply to close the main opposition newspapers.

Although the situation before now was judged to be less serious in Kyrgyzstan than in other former Soviet republics in central Asia, President Askar Akayev's regime continues to harden its position in relation to the media,. Journalists are now undergoing greater pressure, and the post-office regularly blocks the distribution of opposition newspapers. Legal action for slander is becoming more frequent with their fines aimed purely and simply at closing down the sued newspaper. In 2001 this fiscal, financial and legal harassment saw the end of the opposition weekly, Asaba, under pressure for several years. The weekly, Res Publica, and independent television network Osh-TV were also under constant pressure.

A large number of suits against journalists came from members of parliament. In fact last 18 September a draft law proposed by President Akayev, intending to do away with prison sentences for slander (suppression of articles 127 and 128 of the penal code) and making the plaintiff pay a tax equivalent to 5 per cent of the amount of damages demanded was voted down by the parliamentarians. Another draft amendment to the penal code, calling for three to five years imprisonment for "agitation or propaganda with resources from foreign organisations", ran into sharp opposition from the media and non-governmental organisations. The draft amendment was even criticised by President Akayev himself and eventually withdrawn by the government.

A journalist jailed

On 28 May 2001 the police arrested Samagan Orozaliyev, a journalist for the television channel Zamana and the state radio network, accusing him of corruption. He was investigating the deputy, Ergesh Torobayev, also manager of the regional electricity company. The deputy's son was said to have offered the journalist money for not broadcasting certain bits of information, but the journalist refused. Other personalities, according to the public prosecutor, had also brought charges against the journalist. On 31 July after two months of detention, Samagan Orozaliyev was transferred to Jalal-Abad hospital after suffering a heart attack and high blood pressure problems. On 1 November a tribunal in Jalal-Abad sentenced Samagan Orozaliyev to nine years in jail for carrying a weapon and extortion and confiscated all his possessions. The journalist says that all charges against him were totally fabricated, and he has appealed the sentence.

Pressure and obstruction

In February 2001 Kalen Sydykova, a journalist close to the government, was sued by the deputy spokesman of the Parliamentary legislative assembly, Omurbek Tekebayev, who accused her of lying and demanded 1 million soms (24,000 euros) in damages. Sydykova had published an article in the newspaper, Argument, in October 2000, a few days prior to the presidential election, in which she claimed that the deputy spokesman owned part of a company.

On 21 February the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Res Publica, Zamira Sydykova, announced that the paper had to stop publishing for not being able to pay the 50,000 som (1,200 euros) fine that it still owed after losing a law suit for slander. The publishing house suspended printing until the fine was paid. The newspaper had been fined 200,000 soms (4,800 euros) in a suit brought by Amandek Karypkulov, president of national radio-television (KTR), over an article that appeared in 1998 accusing him of embezzlement. The paper was at last authorised to resume publication once the fine was paid in full.

In March the opposition newspaper, Asaba, had to stop publication. Deputy Tudakun Usubaliyev, first secretary of the Kyrgyz communist party from 1961 to 1985 and member of parliament since 1995 sued the paper for libel after it had published a series of articles he considered insulting. The paper had been found guilty in October 2000 and forced to pay a fine of 5 million soms (about 120,000 euros). All journalists having written critical articles were also sentenced to pay damages to the plaintiff. Despite the reduction of the fine in March to 1.5 million soms (about 35,000 euros), the paper could not pay. Starting in 1998, the paper was sued on a regular basis and several times had been fined large amounts of money. On 15 March the paper's bank account was frozen, and the newspaper's paper stocks at the state publishing house, Ushkun, were seized. As of March articles by Asaba's journalists were being published in Res Publica.

On 13 March the state communication agency ordered the television network, Osh TV, to stop broadcasting. Osh TV, one of central Asia's foremost independent television channels, was in conflict with the government over its broadcasting licence and the use of a frequency. On 13 September Osh TV won in appeal against the state communication agency and was allowed to continue broadcasting legally.

On 13 March the regional court of Jalal-Abad confirmed in appeal the verdict against Moldosaly Ibrayimov, an independent journalist. In June 2000 he had been sentenced to two years in jail and fined 107,000 soms (2,568 euros) for having published an article in the summer of 2000 about the judicial corruption in Kyrgyzstan. The judge incriminated by the journalist, Toktosun Kasymbekov, sued for libel after the publication of an article where the journalist accused him of receiving money (15,000 dollars) in the framework of a case opposing two politicians. After spending five weeks in jail, the journalist was freed in July 2000. The court confirmed the conviction but suspended the prison sentence.

On 27 March, the joint publication of the opposition newspapers, Asaba and Res Publica, was not published by the Ushkun publishing house following a written injunction from the Minister of Justice, Jakyp Abdrakmanov. Asaba and Res Publica had published jointly since the 6 March.

On 1 April journalists Viktor Zapolski and Arkady Gladilov, respectively editor-in-chief of the weekly, Delo N, and editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, were fined 50,000 soms in damages (1,200 euros) for an "attack on the dignity" of Misir Ashirkulov, secretary of the National Security Board (NSB). Komsomolskaya Pravda had published an interview with the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Delo N, Viktor Zaposki, in which Zapolski accused Misir Ashirkulov of having turned the NSB into a veritable "generator of criminal actions, producing criminal cases then sending them before the courts to be tried". The plaintiff demanded 3.2 million soms (76,800 euros) for moral injury, after stating that whatever money was won would go to an orphanage.

On 8 June the state publishing house, Ushkun, refused to print an issue of Res Publica. The editor-in-chief, Zamira Sydykova, assumed that the decision was in punishment for publishing an article from the British daily, The Guardian, three days before, that talked about the financial stakes involved in building the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bishkek and cast doubt on President Akayev's wife, owner of shares in the company. Before the distribution of this issue Zamira Sydykova had had an interview with the secretary of state, Mr. Ibrayimov, who had asked her not to publish the article. She had refused.

On 14 June Res Publica was sued for an article that appeared on 5 June entitled "Legal Harassment Continues" about the confiscation by the authorities of the offices of the Kyrgyzstani Committee for Human Rights (KCHR).

In 21 June the state publishing house, Ushkun, was enjoined by the Minister of the Interior to stop publishing sixteen newspapers only recently registered, including Moja Stolitsa, for which the teams of the former newspaper, Vesherniy Bishkek, closed in 1999, worked, and Agym, Tesheniye and Joltiken where journalists of the former newspaper, Asaba, closed in March, worked. The Minister of Justice nullified the registration of these papers because of a decision of 5 April 2001, the goal of which was clearly to prevent teams of newspapers having already been closed from participating in new publications. The four newspapers sued the Minister. Alexandr Kim, editor-in-chief of Moja Stolitsa, was hoping to change the newspaper into a serious competitor of Vsherniy Bishkek, controlled by President Akayev's son-in-law.

On 27 June the offices of the newspaper, Jangy Muun, the only private Kyrgyz-language newspaper in the southern part of the country covering political and social matters, were searched by agents of the MNB (formerly KGB). Investigative documents on corruption cases were confiscated.

On 7 July Yrysbek Omurzakov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper, Tribuna, announced that the state publishing house, Ushkun, had ordered him to remove from the paper any criticism of President Akayev and his family. Similar recommendation had been made in the preceding months to the editorial boards of the weekly opposition paper, Asaba and the weekly, Res Publica.

On 24 September the weekly, Delo N, was ordered by the Mishkek tribunal to pay a fine of 10,000 soms (240 euros) for libel and insult towards the fiscal administration.

On 17 October the weekly, Res Publica, was ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 soms (7,200 euros) for having published an article adjudged to slander Ramazan Dyryldayev, official of the main organisation for the defence of human rights, in exile abroad.

On 25 October a new libel suit against Res Publica was postponed because of the absence of the editor-in-chief. The plaintiff was demanding one million soms (24,000 euros) in damages.

On 7 November, "national media and news day ", the computers of the weekly, Delo N and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) were put out of action by a computer virus. All data were erased from their hard drives.


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