Kyrgyz TV channel’s forced closure deals blow to media pluralism

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards the closure of Aprel TV, a Kyrgyz opposition TV channel owned by former President Almazbek Atambayev, as a press freedom violation and calls on the authorities to allow it to resume broadcasting.

Aprel TV was closed on 9 August by armed special forces wearing masks, helmets and battledress, who stormed into its headquarters in the capital Bishkek at around 8 p.m., evicted all the employees within 15 minutes and then placed seals over the entrance. The TV channel’s journalists have nonetheless managed to continue broadcasting on the Internet.

The authorities claim that Aprel TV’s closure was just one of a series of measures taken to freeze the assets of Atambayev, who was arrested on 8 August on corruption charges. The culture ministry insists that the TV channel’s closure has nothing to do with its journalistic content or its criticism of the current government.

But Aprel TV points out that it had been unable to broadcast by satellite since 7 August, when its signal was disconnected while it was providing live coverage of an initial, unsuccessful attempt to arrest the former president.

“The investigation into Almazbek Atambayev’s assets cannot be used to justify a violation of press freedom of this kind, especially as Aprel TV is not accused of breaking the law,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the authorities to rescind this disproportionate measure and to protect media pluralism.”

A joint statement by a dozen of Kyrgyz associations, media outlets and experts has described the closure as a “fatal error,” pointing out that “the ability to read or listen to news from any source whatsoever” was one of the leading gains of the 2005 and 2010 revolutions. Kyrgyz media pluralism “has always distinguished this country from its neighbours and has given it a higher ranking in international indexes than the rest of Central Asia,” the statement added.

Kyrgyzstan is currently embroiled in a major political crisis pitting the current president against his predecessor, who has been held ever since his arrest during a second assault on his home by the security forces on 8 August.

One person was killed and around 100 were injured during clashes between special forces and the Atambayev supporters who went to defend his home. As a result of these clashes, Atambayev is now also under suspicion of staging a coup attempt.

Kyrgyzstan is ranked 83rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 14.08.2019