Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on all parties to guarantee a safe environment for media covering the post-electoral unrest in Kyrgyzstan, where several journalists have been attacked during major demonstrations and clashes in the wake of the parliamentary elections held on 4 October.
The demonstrations that erupted after the results were disputed and then nullified have created a dangerously violent climate for the country’s journalists.
RSF has registered at least seven incidents in the space of a few days, including a particularly serious one on the evening of 5 October, when Aibol Kozhomuratov, a reporter for Current Time TV – which is affiliated to the US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) – felt a bullet pass within a few millimetres of his head.
He had been filming a special forces patrol in the capital, Bishkek, when one of the soldiers fired at him, although he was wearing a reflective vest and carrying a camera that made him easily visible and distinguishable from the rioting protesters.
“Journalists must not become scapegoats for this post-electoral unrest,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We join the appeal by the local media community calling on all parties – authorities and opposition groups – to guarantee the security of journalists covering these events.”
Cavelier added: “The authorities must begin by opening investigations into each reported attack on a journalist. Every effort must be made to shed light on these attacks, especially the circumstances that led a member of the special forces to open fire in the direction of the journalist Aibol Kozhomuratov.”
A second incident involving a member of the security forces occurred on the evening of 5 October. A police officer confiscated the phone of Ruslan Kharizov, a reporter for the independent online news agency 24.kg, as he was providing live coverage of the clashes between protesters and security forces.
Journalists have also been attacked by protesters. A journalist with Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz version of RFE/RL, was reporting live from a demonstration outside a government building in Bishkek today, when unidentified persons threatened him and accused him of providing “bad coverage” of the event. After they manhandled him, pulling him by the arm and hitting his leg, the reporter had to leave,
In another incident, a protester forcibly snatched the phone of a 24.kg reporter as she was beginning to film a demonstration near the opera.
There were at least two other cases of election-related aggression against journalists before the cancellation of the results and the start of the protests. Khamidullo Uzakov, a reporter for the Kloop news website, was attacked in the southern city of Osh by two individuals who tried to stop him from filming and briefly took his phone, while police officers nearby made no attempt to intervene. A Radio Azattyk crew in the northwestern town of Talas was harassed by a woman demanding that they stop filming.
President Sooronbai Jeenbekov decreed a state of emergency in Bishkek today. He also announced that new parliamentary elections would he held following the Electoral Commission’s decision on 6 October to cancel last weekend’s. He also indicated that he might stand down under certain conditions.
Kyrgyzstan is ranked 82nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.