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Kyrgyzstan3 July 2008

Judicial harassment forces Bishkek newspaper to suspend publishing

Cholpon Orozobekova, the editor of the Biskhek-based newspaper De Facto, announced on 1 July that she is suspending publication until 20 August at least because of harassment by the authorities. The staff have found it increasingly difficult to bring out the newspaper’s two weekly issues since it was charged on 14 June under article 329 of the criminal code with “deliberately publishing false information.”

The newspaper has been searched twice, financial documents have been seized, and its assets and its bank account have been frozen. Furthermore, Orozobekova recently began getting anonymous phone calls warning that a misfortune will befall her if she continues to edit the newspaper.

“The decision to bring a criminal prosecution against the newspaper instead of a civil suit, the freezing of its accounts, the threats received by its editor and the speed with which the judicial authorities acted are all disproportionate and suggest that real aim is to force De Facto to close,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“We expect the authorities to use the same diligence to identify and punish the person or persons responsible for the threats against Orozobekova,” the press freedom organisation added.

De Facto’s 12 June issue included a letter from reader Zamira Moldoeva complaining about corruption in the Bishkek tax department and calling on President Kurmanbek Bakiev to intervene. The next day, the head of the Bishkek tax department, Taalaibek Dalbaev, filed a libel action, to which the prosecutor’s office responded by immediately opening a criminal investigation.

After quickly concluding that Moldoeva did not exist, the prosecutor’s office obtained a warrant for the search of the newspaper’s offices without first questioning the staff or notifying them of the warrant. A court hearing was held on 14 June, a Saturday, without any representative of the newspaper attending. Orozobekova was sent a summons for 16 June.

The newspaper was then raided a second time, its bank account and assets were frozen and, despite donations from readers, it was able to bring out subsequent issues only with great difficulty and tardily.

Speaking at the Bishkek press club on 1 July, presidential spokesman Nurlanbek Chakiev claimed to be a regular reader of De Facto and insisted that the authorities had no intention of closing it down. But he accused it of violating professional ethics.

Orozobekova told the news agency on 1 July that, despite all the financial help, the newspaper would not be able to continue publishing for the time being and that its staff has gone on holiday in the hope that subsequent developments will allow it to resume operations at a later date.

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