Biškek: independent media fight for press freedom
Azattyk, an emanation of Radio Svoboda, in the government's crosshairs. The accusation is that it covered border clashes with Tajikistan. In Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was the only country with a minimum of freedom of expression.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The government of Kyrgyzstan has asked a court to put an end to the activities of the Azattyk Media agency, a local branch of Radio Svoboda, as a mass media outlet. The reason is the journalists' refusal to remove video material concerning border clashes between Biškek and Tajik troops last summer.
The decision on 23 January provoked a strong reaction throughout the journalistic sector and Kyrgyz society, where attempts to restrict freedom of the press and expression have long been denounced.
The closure of Azattyk, according to an appeal shared by many organisations, would not only mean a restriction on freedom and pluralism in the world of information, but also 'a violation of the citizens' right to have access to news about the most important and decisive events in the life of the nation'.
The appeal is addressed to the Ministry of Culture in Biškek, to annul the court order and put an end to the pressure on the agency, whose activities and administration have been blocked for two months now by government measures.
Azattyk's journalists are convinced that they have acted professionally, and that they intend to "continue to carry out our service for our large and loyal audience", as Jamie Fly, president and CEO of Radio Svoboda, also confirmed.
Žanarbek Akaev, an opposition MP from Žogorku Keneš (Parliament), intervened, asking 'who is afraid of Azattyk? The thieves and those who want to hide their crimes, those who do not want to talk about the mistakes made in questionable and dramatic situations, such as border clashes... one cannot believe that they really want to close it down'.
Radio Svoboda publishes information in 30 countries and 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 has also intervened in its defence, publishing an appeal on its official website, in which they recall that Azattyk's blockade 'intersects with the illegal deportation to Russia of the investigative journalist Bolot Temirov'.
On 23 November, Temirov, a correspondent of Azattyk, was boarded on a plane to Moscow, as he holds dual nationality, and placed under house arrest at his mother's home in the Russian capital. The Kyrgyz authorities took the decision on the basis of 'secret relations' between the security apparatus, without giving any explanation.
According to the director of Reporters Without Borders' section for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Jeanne Cavelier, 'Kyrgyzstan was until now considered an exception in the region, a country with a relatively free press, but is now taking a decidedly authoritarian turn'.
The accusation supported by the Kyrgyz ministry is based on the rule that 'excludes propaganda of war, violence and cruelty, religious and nationalist intolerance, and intolerance towards other nations and peoples'.
The entire Radio Svoboda team, Fly assures, is intent on using all legal means at its disposal to prevent the closure of Azattyk in Kyrgyzstan, and to continue to support freedom of journalistic investigation in every country. The fight for freedom of expression is not just about one country or one region of the world, but about human dignity at all latitudes, which must remain a pole star in Kyrgyzstan as well.