Today, IPI and a group of partner organizations sent a letter to Sadyr Japarov, President of Kyrgyzstan, requesting a meeting to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation of press freedom in this country. The letter was co-signed by Committee to Protect journalists, Article 19, Human Rights Watch, Justice For Journalists Foundation, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and Reporters Without Borders.
Dear President Japarov,
We, the undersigned international press freedom and human rights organizations, are writing to express our alarm at the escalating repression of journalists and crackdown on press freedom pursued by your government. We are therefore requesting a meeting with you to discuss this deterioration in democratic norms exemplified by the recent developments outlined in this letter.
Last week, Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Culture applied to the courts to shut down Radio Azattyk, the local affiliate of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The ministry alleges that the outlet’s reporting on a border conflict with Tajikistan contains “propaganda of war, violence and cruelty” after it devoted airtime to the positions of both the Kyrgyz and Tajik governments. Radio Azattyk’s websites have been blocked since October 2022 over the same report, while its bank accounts have been frozen under money laundering legislation without any further information being provided. This series of unwarranted and excessive steps against one of Kyrgyzstan’s most popular and respected news outlets leads us to believe Radio Azattyk is being targeted for its independent reporting.
In another troubling development, in November, investigative journalist Bolot Temirov, a dual Kyrgyz and Russian citizen, was deported to Russia in apparent retaliation for his reporting on corruption – a move that shocked the Kyrgyz and international media communities.
Also recently, Taalaibek Duishenbiev, director of the privately owned broadcaster Next TV, was handed a suspended five-year sentence, and a criminal investigation was conducted into critical outlet Kaktus.media, in both cases simply for republishing and reporting on news covered in foreign media outlets – that is, for doing their jobs as journalists. The unjust and retaliatory nature of these measures, like those against Radio Azattyk and Bolot Temirov, violate Kyrgyzstan’s international legal obligations to respect free speech and rule of law under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and are damaging to Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation.
We are also concerned by several laws enacted by your administration or currently under consideration, which pose a severe risk to media freedom in Kyrgyzstan. In April 2022, you ratified the law “On Protection from Inaccurate (False) Information,” which grants state officials draconian powers to block news websites without any requirement to justify their decisions and without the opportunity for news organizations to contest the blocks before they are enforced. A recently proposed draft law “On Mass Media” has deeply disquieted journalists in Kyrgyzstan with its disproportionate penalties (including the suspension and shuttering of outlets) and requirement for the wholesale re-registration of all existing media outlets under unclear conditions, which journalists fear could be used to sift out undesirable media. Instead of heeding media representatives’ legitimate concerns and suggestions during an ongoing consultation process, as was promised, officials have reportedly put forward an even more restrictive draft for discussion.
Since becoming president, you have reiterated your belief that Kyrgyzstan is a country where freedom of the press prevails. As a self-described former political prisoner, you have also said that you are acutely aware of the harm that the persecution of free speech does to society. We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and appropriate officials from your administration, to discuss the above-mentioned incidents and find ways to bring Kyrgyzstan closer to your stated priorities and in line with the country’s international obligations.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Human Rights Watch
International Press Institute
Justice For Journalists Foundation
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Reporters Without Borders