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Kyrgyzstan25 February 2005

Authorities harass independent media ahead of legislative elections

The government has been harassing the few independent media ahead of parliamentary elections on 27 February, apparently fearing a "tulip revolution", said Reporters Without Borders.

As thousands demonstrate against the exclusion of many opposition candidates, the authorities’ constant blocks on press freedom look like a strategy to discredit the opposition and silence all dissident voices, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"We call on President Askar Akayev to respect the democratic process and allow different candidates to express themselves freely in the press, on the eve of a crucial electoral deadline," it added.

US publishing house Media Support Center, which publishes the country’s biggest-selling opposition newspapers (MSN, Analitika, Respublica and Litsa), suffered a power cut on 22 February threatening publication. The only independent radio, Radio Azattyk (the Kyrgyz subsidiary of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), had the plug pulled completely at 6pm on 24 February.

Electricians at the Media Support Center, funded by Freedom House, said that the state utility Severelektro ordered the power cut off until 26 February. Forced to find its own electricity generator, the company had to postpone publishing opposition papers in which several candidates were to present their electoral programmes.

The weeklies Respublica, Analitika, Litsa and the tri-weekly MSN could not be published on 23 February, as scheduled but two days later on 25 February. A gang of some 20 young hooligans occupied the premises of MSN for more than an hour on 24 February. The paper also had to print in black and white and not in its usual colour.

Elsewhere, Radio Azattyk, stopped broadcasting indefinitely on 24 February after RMTR, the technical service of the state distributor Kyrgyztelecom, decided to abruptly interrupt broadcasts of Radio Azattyk, on the pretext of holding a first auction of short and medium waves. The radio pays 100,000 dollars a year to RMTR to be broadcast in the country. It is the only electronic media that has reported on the numerous demonstrations rousing the country in this pre-election period.

The opposition sites www.gazeta.kg and www.kyrgyz.us, were completely blocked on 25 February. These foreign-hosted sites could have been the targets of electronic attacks. The management of the site www.msn.kg said they had also suffered the same kind of attack on 25 February but the site was accessible again by the end of the day.

Several thousand demonstrators are continuing their protests in six out of the country’s eight regions against the unfair elimination of opposition candidates, whose registration has been cancelled by the authorities.

Several of them, who had lodged appeals, have had their claims rejected. The Bishkek Supreme Court on 25 February upheld the cancellation of the registration of opposition candidate Arslanbek Maliyev, provoking a 3,000-strong demonstration in the city of Bokonbayev and the blocking of main roads into the city.

Some 200 people also demonstrated in Bishkek to show their support for the newspaper MSN, on 19 February. The president is taking legal action against the paper after it carried an article on 8 February listing the media controlled by the head of state and those close to him.

President Akayev has been able rely on the parliament’s total support to introduce constitutional reform that would allow him to remain candidate for the presidential elections in 2005.

The second round of the legislative elections is on 13 March.




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