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Investigative reporting and Kyrgyzstan's selective justice

At a Bishkek roundtable Tuesday called "The Fourth Estate: Rule of the Game," Almambet Shykmamatov, Kyrgyzstan's justice minister, encouraged local reporters to expose government corruption, local press reported. The minister said authorities would follow up on such reports, grant security to investigative journalists, and might even pay them up to 20 percent of the funds that corrupt officials return to state coffers.

The minister's call might sound encouraging to those who are aware of how deeply corruption is embedded in this mountainous Central Asian nation. In its most recent report, Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization, ranked Kyrgyzstan 164 out of 183 countries surveyed. In other words, the country was placed among those nations with the strongest perceptions of corruption.

At the same time, local news reports and CPJ research show that those who expose corruption are targeted in retaliation for their work while the officials they investigate enjoy impunity. Unless authorities reverse these trends--as exemplified in two cases below--the minister's call will be meaningless.

Azimjon Askarov, an investigative reporter and the head of a local human rights group, did exactly what Shykmamatov called on the journalists to do--he exposed corruption and abuse among police and prosecutors in the southern Jalal-Abad region. For years, he investigated and reported on the fabrication of criminal cases, and torture, rape, and killing of detainees by police in his native village of Bazar-Korgon. But in June 2010, local authorities imprisoned him in connection to the then-ravaging ethnic conflict in the region, and slammed him with a life sentence three months later on a set of politicized and fabricated charges.

Askarov and his lawyers told CPJ that local police and prosecutors had long sought to pay him back for his exposés, which had forced many officials out of office. Following his arrest, police tortured the journalist in custody, and threatened to rape his daughter and wife if he refused to hand over his reporting materials, Askarov told CPJ. Despite protests by his lawyer and rights activists, including CPJ, authorities refused to hold police responsible, and the judges failed to inquire into bruises on his face. The journalist continues to serve his term; advocacy for his release is ongoing. Last week, a CPJ delegation met with the Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States to discuss Askarov's case, and the ambassador agreed to present our findings to the president.

Meanwhile, according to the regional news website Ferghana News, in early June authorities in the Jalal-Abad region released from pretrial custody into house arrest four Bazar-Korgon police officers who were arrested on charges of killing a detainee in August 2011. The case stems from the detention of a local man whom police held and brutally beat while trying to extort US$6,000, Ferghana News reported. After the man gave his captors part of the sum, he was let go--but died at a hospital two days later, having been diagnosed with a broken sternum, post-traumatic shock, and injury to his internal organs. Before he died, the man described his torture to his wife and doctors.

Outcry in the media prompted regional authorities to arrest the four officers. But, according to local media, prosecution in the seemingly clear-cut case became troublesome due to threats and pressure by the officers' families and supporters against witnesses and a local doctor, who examined the man before his death. According to the regional news website Voice of Freedom, during the trial those who testified against the police reversed their statements. The judges ignored this, sent the case back to regional prosecutors, and released the suspects to house arrest.

These cases show that in Kyrgyzstan, justice is enforced selectively; in addition to blocking press freedom and the rule of law, this trend only contributes to the spread of corruption. If Shykmamatov wants his call to be implemented, the minister should make sure that justice is universally applied according to the law. He could start with Askarov's case.

June 21, 2012 5:40 PM ET | | Comments (2)

Comments

Dear CPJ - do you only protect journalists if they are not Kyrgyz? Dear Muzaffar, I can understand you - you are biased, you take sides.

For Farafonov case, the court is taking place indeed without any pressure, some 8 people are sitting in the court, most of them are Farafonov friends and Russian media.

The court has not brought any ruling yet. Yesterday court was cancelled: Farafonov refused from his advocate and other motion., The judge is a commonsense and he is not taking any sides. This can be noted by not only me but by others.

Dear Muzaffar, if you are the only monopolist about Central Asia in CPJ, then I am very sorry about CPJ - in case of Kyrgyzstan, you are only reacting when non-ethnic Kyrgyz journalists are under pressure., you put so much political paint, and you present human right activist Azimjan Askarov as a journalist, when he is not. You always use CPJ tribune to say your message.

How does CPJ not care of this conflict of interest - you are an ethnic Uzbek, you studied in Kyrgyzstan, you know the people and life. There was an conflict in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 between the ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek, and you happen to be ethnic Uzbek. How can you be objective and fair and neutral?

I wrote my reaction many times to your email, Muzaffar, and CPJ, and never heard back. Your ignorance only shows that youa re not an example of a responsible and responsive organization, not to speak about the human aspect.

Dear CPJ, as a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, as a commonsense citizen of the world, claim that CPJ reputation in Kyrgyzstan is very bad. How could CPJ overlook the principle of conflict of interest?

Why CPJ does not react when ethnic Kyrgyz journalists are under pressure. Recently there was an owner of Maidan Kg newspaper was arrested. If CPJ is so quick to react, does it become deaf and blind when it hears that Kyrgyz (ethnic) journalists are under pressure. If CPJ is so caring about journalists, why does it have double standards and selective approach - and then it claims Kyrgyzstan justice to be selective. There is a proverb "One who has a wood on his head, sees a hay on other's feet". But is CPJ is a private organization of Muzaffar Suleiman? Very sad for CPJ.


Dear Burul Usmanalieva,

CPJ’s mandate is to defend press freedom, and we do so without regard to journalists’ ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We advocate for journalists who face prosecution, receive threats, and are subject to violence in retaliation for their work.

As executive director, I have full confidence in the professionalism and judgment of Muzaffar Suleymanov, who upholds CPJ standards in defending the rights of journalists in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, and throughout Europe.

Sincerely,
Joel Simon
CPJ Executive Director


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