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-  Area: 198,500 sq. km.
-  Population: 4,986,000
-  Languages: Kirghiz, Russian
-  Type of state: republic
-  Head of state: President Askar Akayev
-  Head of government: Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev

Kyrgyzstan - Annual Report 2003

Press freedom did not improve in 2002. Journalists and independent media were subject to constant pressure and nearly all media censored themselves.

The nationwide monopoly of the state printing company Uchkun allowed the authorities to regularly stop the appearance of "troublesome" publications and awards of heavy libel damages continued to burden independent newspapers. As part of its fight against terrorism and religious extremism, the government on 14 January ordered re-registration with the authorities of all publishing houses and all photocopying machines in the country. After strong protests by human rights organisations, the order was cancelled.
In March, the country seemed close to civil war after demonstrations in which five people were killed by security forces. More than 90 were arrested, including several journalists and the head of the Kirghiz Committee for Human Rights. Most media covered these events in an emotional way.
At the end of the year, a plan for an independent printing plant raised hopes of better working conditions for the independent media. On 30 December, journalist Samagan Orozaliev was unexpectedly released from prison for health reasons. He had been serving a nine-year sentence since May 2001 on trumped-up charges.

A journalist imprisoned

The supreme court confirmed on 25 June 2002 a nine-year jail sentence on Samagan Orozaliev, a journalist with the TV station Zamana and the state radio. He had been arrested on 28 May 2001 and accused of corruption while investigating the behaviour of member of parliament Ergesh Torobayev, who was also head of a regional electricity company. On 1 November that year, a court in Jalal-Abad jailed him for nine years and ordered all his property seized for alleged extortion and carrying a weapon. Orozaliev denounced the charges as entirely invented and appealed against the sentence. In August 2002, about 20 journalists and several human rights organisations asked the president to pardon him. A court freed him on health grounds on 30 December.

Two journalists arrested

Jarkyn Temirbayeva, a journalist with the radio station Azattyk (Liberty), was arrested on 16 May in front of parliament and held for several hours. She had been covering a demonstration protesting against a secret agreement made by President Akayev ceding parts of Kirghiz territory to neighbouring China.
Yrysbai Abraimov, of the radio station Azattyk, was arrested for several hours on 7 June while covering a demonstration in the western town of Tash-Kumyr. He was roughed up and intimidated and his dictaphone was confiscated for two months.

Pressure and obstruction

Petrol bombs were hurled on 19 January at the new premises of the twice-weekly opposition paper Agym, starting a fire which injured a security guard and caused material damage. The paper was to publish that day statements by opposition parties, NGOs and ordinary citizens calling on President Akayev to end political repression. The day before, the paper’s publisher, Melis Eshimkanov, also head of the opposition People’s Party, had called for Akayev to resign.
The state monopoly printing firm Uchkun refused on 19 and 21 January to print the daily paper Moya Stolitsa, saying it would have to sign a new printing contract. The paper had printed reports about high-level corruption.
Only half the copies of the weekly Res Publica were printed on 22 January by Uchkun because half-way through the print-run, the paper’s staff decided to show solidarity by reproducing four pages of Moya Stolitsa in the rest of the copies. The printers said they could not do so because of a technical breakdown and lack of paper. Moya Stolitsa said however it had supplied Res Publica with 600 kgs of paper to print the pages.
Res Publica reappeared on 3 May for the first time in three months because Uchkun had refused to print it until it paid in full libel damages in owed. The paper’s accounts had been frozen on 29 January after a court ordered it to pay 121,000 soms (2,650euros) in damages to Alexandr Eliseyez, a former member of the Kirghiz Human Rights Committee, who was suspected of being a government agent with a mission to destroy the privately-owned media.
A libel suit against the fortnightly Tribuna by Alexandr Emelyashin for mentioning his forgery convictions in an 25 April article opened in July.
President Akayev accused the US radio station Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty and "foreign news agencies" on 26 July of "news terrorism" against the country. He said the US station had given a voice to the opposition during demonstrations in the spring, when the radio’s programmes, relayed by Radio Almaz in the Kirghiz language, were frequently jammed in some parts of the country, though the government denied this.
The Sokuluk regional court on 16 September ordered the newspaper Portret Nedeli, in the northern region of Chui, to pay 75,000 soms (1,650 euros) in damages to a senior regional official, Erkintur Moldogaziev, it had accused in July of embezzling pension funds.
Unidentified people bought up a large number of copies of the daily Moya Stolitsa from newsstands in Bishkek on 27 September. The issue contained an article reprinted from the Washington Times reporting the misuse of international loans by associates of President Akayev and criticising his family for their behaviour towards competing firms in the telecommunications market.
An official of the state printing firm Uchkun asked the editor of the newspaper Alaam on 20 November to remove from the issue about to be printed a report of a nightclub brawl on 17 November involving the bodyguards of the president’s son.
Unidentified men stopped a vehicle on its way to Jala-Abad on the road between Bishkek and Osh on 28 November and seized 2,500 copies of the newspaper Kyrgyz Ordo. Editor Beken Nazaraliev said it was probably because the issue contained an article by human rights activist Topchubek Turgunaliev criticising the president.

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see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Americas Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report