Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by a new wave of threats and physical attacks on journalists during the past few weeks in both Bishkek, the capital, and the southern city of Osh.
“Harassment and self-censorship are growing, in an explosive atmosphere of ethnic tension,” Reporters Without Borders said. “No serious investigation has been carried out into any of these attacks on journalists. We remind the authorities that they have a duty to ensure the safety of journalists and to put an end to the prevailing impunity.
“Journalists were already the victims of a wave of violence and intimidation at the end of 2009, at a time of growing exasperation with former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s government. Even if the new central government is not behind these latest attacks, it is clearly failing in its duty to protect journalists and the civilian population in general.”
Ever since the April 2010 uprising and the ensuing inter-ethnic violence between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in the south, political and social tension has continued and the state has been permanently weakened. Journalists who try to cover the current problems are increasingly being targeted, especially in Osh and other parts of the south, where hundreds of civilians died in June 2010.
In one of the most recent cases, Reuters correspondent Hulkar Isamova was accosted and threatened in an Osh car park by two women armed with a knife, who accused her of being a “supporter of Kadyrjan Batyrov,” an Uzbek community leader wanted by the authorities. Disturbingly, the women had confidential information that Isamova had given to police who were investigating the June 2010 unrest.
This act of intimidation came three days after more than a dozen people identifying themselves as supporters of the nationalist party Asaba burst into the offices of the 24.kg news agency in Osh and threatened its journalists and employees, using ethnic insults and calling them “Uzbek spies.”
The list of abuses against journalists gets longer by the week amid general indifference and impunity. The police rarely take any action when complaints are filed. If investigations are opened, they are carried in a desultory fashion and produce no results.
Jyldyz Bekbayeva, the correspondent of the Russian news agency Interfax, was the target of a particularly brutal attack by two men and two women as she was returning home with her two-year-old daughter on the evening of 1 May in Osh’s Zapadny neighbourhood, and had to be hospitalized with injuries to the head, neck and legs.
Kyrgyz interim President Rosa Otunbayeva described the attack as a “press freedom violation” and pledged to follow the investigation closely. However Bekbayeva herself is a target of one of the two investigations launched after the attack.
Meanwhile in Bishkek, Samat Asipov, a TV reporter who covers politics and social issues for Canal 5’s news programme Kundemi, had to be hospitalized after being attacked by three unidentified men near the city’s Technical University on 11 May.
“Since the start of May, there have been three serious assaults on journalists in which the victims have had to be hospitalized,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Each of these attacks was probably linked to the victim’s work, because they were not robbed and because they all cover sensitive subjects.”
Two other journalists – Elmira Toktogulova of Tazar and Media-Consult and Nazgul Kushnazarova of Radio Almaz – are known to have been physically attacked in Bishkek since the start of the year. In these two cases, it has not been possible to determine whether the victim’s work was the principle motive. In both cases, the investigation has ground to a halt.
Journalists have also reportedly been targeted by traffickers in petroleum products in the remote southwestern border town of Batken. According to the Kyrgyz Centre for Human Rights, Ulan Makkambayev and Zhyrgal Aytmatov, who work for state-owned radio and TV broadcaster ElTR, were threatened with reprisals if they tried to do any more smuggling stories.
The police and judicial investigations into the June 2010 violence have unfortunately proved to be one-sided. This has been seen in the conclusions of the investigation into two Uzbek media owners – Khalil Khudoyberdiyev (Osh TV’s former owner) and Javlon Mirzakhodjayev (the owner and CEO of the TV stations Mezon, Itogi Nedeli and Portfel) – which were published at the end of April
The two men, who are currently in exile, were investigated for covering an Uzbek community meeting in Jalal-Abad in May 2010. They learned from press reports that they are to be prosecuted on charges of organizing and participating in public disturbances, encouraging separatism, inciting sectarian and ethnic hatred, abuse of authority and illegally creating an armed group. Khudoyberdiyev had to sell Osh TV in July 2010 after receiving threats.
The events of June 2010 and the continuing inter-ethnic tension receive little coverage in the Kyrgyz media. Inga Sikorskaya of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said: “A journalist writing about the effects of ethnic violence is exposed to many problems. As a result, self-censorship develops.”
Picture : Hulkar Isamova