independent media fight for press freedom

Azattyk, a branch of Radio Svoboda, is in the government’s crosshairs. She is accused of having shown the border clashes with Tajikistan. In Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was the only country with minimal freedom of expression.

Moscow () – The Kyrgyz government has asked the Court to suspend the activities of the Azattyk Media agency, the local section of Radio Svoboda, as a mass media outlet. The reason is the refusal of journalists to remove the video material relating to the border clashes between Bishkek and Tajik troops last summer.

The January 23 decision provoked a strong reaction throughout the world of journalism and in Kyrgyz society, where attempts to curtail freedom of the press and freedom of expression have long been denounced. The closure of Azattyk, affirms a statement shared by many organizations, would mean not only a limitation of freedom and pluralism in the world of information, but also “a violation of the right of citizens to have access to news on the most important and decisive events for the life of the nation”.

The appeal was filed with the Bishkek Ministry of Culture, requesting that the court’s decision be annulled and the pressure on the agency end, whose activities and administration have been blocked for two months due to government measures. Azattyk journalists are convinced that they have acted professionally and intend to “continue to serve our large and loyal audience,” as confirmed by Jamie Fly, President and CEO of Radio Svoboda.

Žanarbek Akaev, an opposition deputy in the Žogorku Keneš (Parliament), intervened asking “Who is afraid of Azattyk? The thieves and those who want to hide their crimes, those who don’t want to talk about the mistakes made in questionable and dramatic situations, like the clashes at the border… you can’t believe they really want to close it.”

Radio Svoboda broadcasts information in 30 countries and in 27 different languages. It is often an almost exclusive source in areas of the world with very limited access, such as the former Soviet countries of Central Asia. Reporters Without Borders also intervened in his defense, publishing an appeal on the official website recalling that the closure of Azattyk “comes on top of the illegal deportation to Russia of investigative journalist Bolot Temirov.” On November 23, Temirov, a correspondent for Azattyk, was boarded on a plane bound for Moscow -because he has dual citizenship- and placed under house arrest at his mother’s house in the Russian capital. The Kyrgyz authorities made the decision on the basis of “secret reports” from the security services, without giving any other explanation.

Reporters Without Borders’ director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Jeanne Cavelier, stated that “Kyrgyzstan was seen as an exception in the region, a country with a relatively free press, but now it is taking a decidedly authoritarian turn.” The accusation supported by the Kyrgyz ministry is based on the norm that “excludes the propaganda of war, violence and cruelty, religious and nationalist intolerance, and intolerance towards other countries and peoples.”

The entire Radio Svoboda team, says Fly, is determined to use all available legal means to prevent Azattyk from being shut down in Kyrgyzstan, and to continue supporting freedom of investigative journalism in all countries. The fight for freedom of expression concerns not only a country or a region of the world but human dignity in all latitudes, and it must also remain a lodestar in Kyrgyzstan.

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Written by Editor TLN

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