Kyrgyzstan detains journalists as violence continues

Kyrgyz soldiers at a checkpoint at the Uzbek border on the outskirts of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
New York, June 23, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release independent journalists Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov, and to ensure the safety of other journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan, which has been engulfed by interethnic violence since early June.

On June 14, unknown men picked up Abdusalomov, chief editor of the local independent newspaper Diydor, from a street in the Jalal-Abad region; police are holding him in a pretrial detention facility, without access to his family or defense counsel, according to CPJ sources and press reports. The next day, Jalal-Abad police arrested Askarov, who had been reporting on interethnic violence in the south.

“We call on Kyrgyz authorities in Jalal-Abad to free Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov at once,” CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We also call on central authorities in Bishkek to investigate the Jalal-Abad officers presently holding our colleagues for abuse of office, and to ensure that journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan are protected from retaliation for their work.”

On June 14, several unidentified men in camouflage uniforms driving a black SUV without license plates blocked Abdusalomov’s car in the Jalal-Abad region, saying they’d come specifically for him and not the other passengers, a local journalist who asked for anonymity told CPJ. The journalist’s son and witnesses told a local reporter that the men took the editor to the regional headquarters of the Kyrgyz security service (SNB), and later transferred him to a Jalal-Abad police detention facility. The official press service of the Kyrgyz transitional government, citing Jalal-Abad regional prosecutor Kanybek Turdumambetov, said that Abdusalamov has been detained on charges of incitement of ethnic hatred. According to CPJ sources in the region, Abdusalomov’s paper, produced in both Uzbek and Kyrgyz, was not critical of the authorities.

On June 15, Jalal-Abad police arrested Askarov, who is primarily known as a human rights defender, on the same charge as Abdusalomov, according to international news reports. Askarov was reporting on violence, looting, and the police’s failure to stop human rights abuses in the southern village of Bazar-Korgon at the time. Askarov’s brother, who was also detained but later released, told journalists that police officers demanded that he bring video footage and other research Askarov had gathered in the village. When he failed to produce the required materials, the brother (who was not named) was beaten by police, the independent news Web site Ferghana reported.

Today, Ferghana released a photo of Askarov in which the reporter shows bruises reportedly sustained in a police beating while in detention. Ferghana said it had obtained the photo through a local human rights group that visited Askarov in custody.

Journalists have told CPJ that ethnic Uzbek journalists are being targeted for retaliation on the basis of their ethnicity and that Kyrgyz authorities are unable to provide adequate protection. At least two have gone into hiding temporarily, according to local journalists.

“It is unacceptable that our colleagues would be forced to go into hiding because of their ethnicity,” Ognianova said. “Kyrgyz authorities must investigate these incidents thoroughly and ensure that journalists are able to report on this ongoing crisis.”

June 23, 2010 4:46 PM ET |

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