Wednesday, 27 February 2002

KYRGYZSTAN RESTRICTS FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Published in Field Reports

By Aziz Soltobaev, American University in Kyrgyzstan (2/27/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On January 14, vice Prime Minister Nikolay Tanaev signed a governmental decree that contradicts the most important democratic reforms in Kyrgyzstan during the last decade. The Government justifies the enactment of the decree “On some issues of publishing” through the need to combat the penetration of the ideology of extremist organizations, especially Hizb-ut-Tahrir, claiming that it directly follows from Kyrgyz Republic’s duties to the antiterrorist Coalition and to the international community of countering international terrorism. 

The Decree obliges the Interior affairs Ministry and the customs authorities to ensure strict control and registration of the import to the Kyrgyz Republic of typographical, polygraph, and of other printing equipment.

On January 14, vice Prime Minister Nikolay Tanaev signed a governmental decree that contradicts the most important democratic reforms in Kyrgyzstan during the last decade. The Government justifies the enactment of the decree “On some issues of publishing” through the need to combat the penetration of the ideology of extremist organizations, especially Hizb-ut-Tahrir, claiming that it directly follows from Kyrgyz Republic’s duties to the antiterrorist Coalition and to the international community of countering international terrorism. 

The Decree obliges the Interior affairs Ministry and the customs authorities to ensure strict control and registration of the import to the Kyrgyz Republic of typographical, polygraph, and of other printing equipment. The media, however, is critical. The editor of “Moya stolitza” newspaper Rina Prijivoyt says. “This stern document appeared here and now for one obvious reason: because of the intention of the USA and EU, under severe time pressure, to establish an International Publishing house in Bishkek.” Until now, the printing of mass media has basically been dependent on the will of the monopolistic publishing house Uchkun, which often charges extremely high fees and occasionally decides simply not to sign an agreement with independent publications. In particular, the seventh point of the temporary regulation stipulates that the right to operate “publishing enterprises belong to legal entities of the Kyrgyz Republic registered as individual entrepreneurs in accordance with the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic”. This implies that the International Publishing House will be prohibited from publishing printed matters in Kyrgyzstan. 

On January 19, the Joint Stock company Uchkun refused to print Saturday’s issue of the recently established newspaper “Moya stolitza”. The director of Uchkun, Kanybek Imanaliev stated that “Moya stolitza” undermines Uchkun’s reputation. Internews- Kyrgyzstan commented that “this statement violates the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic that guarantees freedom of speech and the rights of journalists to investigate and report issues related to publicity”. On January 29 “Uchkun” also refused to print the weekly newspaper “Res Publica”, which from January 19 started to publish materials of of Moya stolitza” journalists. On January 28, the chief editors of seven independent newspapers appealed to the leadership of the country with a claim to stop the harassment of independent mass media. The President of the NGO Coalition, Tolekan Ismailova, stated that she would undertake measures to defend the independent mass media that is prevented from being published. Two days later, the Bishkek city arbitration court ruled to order the Uchkun publishing house to issue the “Moya Stolitza” newspaper until the investigation is finished and a court decision will be reached. 

The United States expressed concern about the newly passed decree. The Deputy Chief of Mission of the US mission to the OSCE, Douglas Davidson, thinks that a “request of registration of printing and copying equipment within next month and registration of companies providing such services would be a pernicious blow to the freedom of the media and to freedom of speech in the Kyrgyz Republic”.

The Central Asian Agency of Political Research states that the decree issued by the Kyrgyz Government is reminiscent of an attempt to justify attempts to restrain the opposition in the face of the world community, and first and foremost, towards its main donor, the United States. According to Prijivoyt, “double standards and double morality has been practiced for a long time in our country. The West enjoys appreciates promises to develop democracy, the excellent drafts of new laws, etc. But domestically, arrests of politicians, struggle against heterodoxies, pressure on the media and violations of human rights are practiced. Immediately after signing an agreement with the U.S. on the deployment of U.S. troops at Manas airport, such appalling actions are taken. It’s a principle of quid pro quo: we gave you an airport, now please close your eyes to our moves away from democracy.”

The conflict between the mass media and the government is escalating in Kyrgyzstan. Since the standoff with the mass media occurred after the arrest of member of parliament Beknazarov, one could suppose that official Bishkek fears the rise of oppositional feelings after the massive reporting of that event. Moreover, the arrest of the deputy whipped up those, who had not earlier contradicted the President and his affiliates. However, these extreme measures against the representatives of opposition and mass media on the part of the authorities could lead to diametrically opposite outcomes and heat up the situation in republic even further.

Aziz Soltobaev, American University in Kyrgyzstan.
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