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Kyrgyzstan29 October 2004

New attacks on independent press by president and administration

Reporters Without Borders wrote to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev today cautioning against too broad an interpretation of national security threats and asking him to ensure that the fight against terrorism is not used as a pretext to gag independent media that are needed to build a true democracy.

The letter was prompted by a meeting of the Kyrgyz security council on 23 October in which Akayev slammed the independent media and human rights organisations, accusing them of "ideological extremism."

In its letter, Reporters Without Borders also asked Akayev to "ensure strict implementation of the law on competition" because the weekly MSN, a leading independent newspaper that has been targeted by the authorities in the past, is now being prosecuted by the economic development ministry’s anti-monopoly department.

At the 23 October meeting of the security council, which was given over to the fight against corruption and terrorism, Akayev said "ideological terrorism" posed a great danger to Kyrgyzstan.

He said "the media, groups and organisations participating in political combat" were part of this "ideological extremism" and that "aggressive dissemination" of their "subjective understanding of the country’s development and democracy" was aimed solely at destabilising Kyrgyzstan.

"Certain publications, which call themselves opposition newspapers, use the least pretext to aggravate the situation and transform their pages into destabilisation manuals," Askayev said, adding that "no one is in prison for their ideas" in Kyrgyzstan.

The anti-monopoly department has accused MSN of breaking the law on competition by using dumping to maintain a monopoly. It issued a decree on 29 September ordering its management to stop selling the newspaper at a price "less than the production cost." On 5 October, the ministry told MSN it had a week to comply by increasing the newspaper’s retail price.

However, the dumping charge can be rebutted by referring to article 3 of the press law, which says that a newspaper’s revenues come not only from retail sales but also from other services, sponsors and so on. The retail price therefore depends on the management’s judgment. Furthermore, MSN editor Rina Prijivoit said the newspaper anyway did not have anything resembling a monopoly of the press market and would appeal against the ministry’s order.

MSN was the target of unrelenting judicial and bureaucratic harassment in 2003, when it was published under the name Moya Stolitsa-Novosti.

Chief editor Alexander Kim announced on 11 June 2003 that the paper, which regularly exposed political corruption, was closing because it had been bankrupted by the more than 77,000 euros it had been ordered to pay in damages and fines in the course of more than 30 lawsuits.

It had stopped appearing at the end of May after the seizure of 15,000 copies of an issue containing articles about President Akayev’s brother-in-law and the legal harassment to which it had been subjected.

The Lenin court in Bishkek ordered confiscation of the newspaper’s property on 20 January 2004 and the freezing of its accounts. It was at this point that the staff managed to register the newspaper under its new name, MSN.

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