Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – In an official letter, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has urged the Kyrgyz government to stop censoring online media. As the fifth anniversary of the country’s March 2005 ‘orange’ revolution approaches, Kyrgyz authorities are putting unprecedented pressure on independent media. Ordinary Kyrgyz are also outraged by fee hikes of essential services, encouraging the opposition.
In its letter, the OSCE has called on the Kyrgyz government to respect its international obligations to protect freedom of speech and to restore access to a number of online media sources and to Azattyk Radio (the Kyrgyz Service of RFE/RL).
Similarly, “Press freedom violations seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity,” Reporters Without Borders and other groups have lamented.
Since 10 March, agencies like ferghana.ru, centrasia.ru and paruskg.info (whose editor Gennady Pavlyuk was murdered last December) have been blocked.
Local sources report that independent media have been pressured not to report certain news or lose their licence. Consequently, many have refrained from publishing articles critical of the government.
The opposition press has also been targeted. All 7,000 copies of the newspaper Forum were seized by the police in Bishkek on 15 March without any explanation, whilst its editor, Ryskeldi Mombekov, and five other journalists were detained.
President Kurmanbek Bakiev appears eager to prevent news from reaching Kyrgyz that a businessman close to his inner circle was arrested in Italy on suspicion of mafia links. Mr Yevgeny Gurevich is a financial consultant to the Central Agency for Development, Investments and Innovation, which is run by the president’s son, Maksim Bakiev.
The government also wants to stop news about public protest in Naryn. On 10 March, this region located in the high mountains, saw mass demonstration against higher electricity and heating prices. Two days ago, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital (pictured) for the same reason.
The opposition has also held an assembly (kurultai) and drafted a list of demands to make to the government; they include cancelling the recent price increases, the renationalisation of key firms like Kyrgyztelecome and Severelectro as well as the release of political prisoners and government opponents. They also want an inquiry into Gurevich’s arrest, his activities, and an end to media censorship. If these requests are not met, the opposition plans to organise a kurultai in each region.
For many experts, the recent turn of events suggests that Kyrgyzstan is falling into line with its autocratic central Asian neighbours.