Today, the U.N. Human Rights Committee begins its two-day review of Kyrgyzstan's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. By ratifying the treaty in October 1994, Kyrgyz authorities pledged to enforce internationally recognized provisions regarding the protection of human rights, and freedom of expression, in their country.
But CPJ research shows that Kyrgyzstan has consistently violated ICCPR provisions. Attacks against reporters; impunity in journalist murders, including of journalist Alisher Saipov; blocking of the news website Ferghana News; the politicized prosecution of ethnic Uzbek media owners, including Dzhavlon Mirzakhodzhayev of Mezon TV and Khalil Khudaiberdiyev of Osh TV; and the ongoing imprisonment of investigative reporter Azimjon Askarov have marred the climate of press freedom in Kyrgyzstan.
While President Almazbek Atambayev urged the state council in March to enforce rule of law and guarantee the protection of human rights, he demonstrated little political will to bring about such changes. Authorities showed no intent to revive the Uzbek-language media that thrived in southern Kyrgyzstan prior to the June 2010 conflict, in which clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks left hundreds dead and thousands displaced. Broadcasting in the largest minority language remained limited--only one broadcaster produced news in Uzbek. While access to the independent regional website Ferghana News was restored by most Internet service providers, the Kyrgyz government failed to repeal the June 2011 ban that recommended the outlet be blocked in connection with its coverage of the 2010 conflict. As a result, fear remained that authorities could legally block the website at any time. In May, Atambayev signed a vaguely worded anti-extremism bill that his critics said could be used to target free expression on the Web. Three years after the 2010 ethnic conflict, injustice continued to impair press freedom and human rights. The Kyrgyz leader publicly declared his commitment to revisit the case of imprisoned reporter Azimjon Askarov, but no action followed: Prosecutors failed to investigate the case even after new evidence emerged in Askarov's defense.
Following an established trend, authoritarian Uzbek leader Islam Karimov promised to address journalists' concerns but did not follow through by ending the repressive climate for the press in the country. The decades-long harassment against government critics has virtually wiped out the media landscape, forcing the domestic and international community to rely on rumors or leaked diplomatic cables to get information on topics including the aging leader's health or his reaction to international events. At least four journalists remained in jail in late 2013, where they were allegedly tortured and denied appropriate medical care. Human rights activists, including those in exile, also faced official harassment and prosecution after reporting on corruption and abuses in Uzbekistan. One exiled human rights activist, Nadezhda Atayeva, was sentenced to seven years in absentia on embezzlement charges after reporting on human rights abuses. One journalist, Sergei Naumov, was jailed on fabricated charges of hooliganism just days after an Uzbek official denied jailing critics and assured the U.N. Human Rights Council that authorities were complying with international human rights standards. But this soon became hard to verify: Citing official obstruction to its work, the International Committee of the Red Cross publicly announced in April that it had terminated visits to Uzbek prisons.
A legislative milestone in Mexico
In what CPJ called "a step forward in the fight against impunity," Mexico approved legislation that would implement a constitutional amendment giving federal authorities broader jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against freedom of expression.
The legislation, passed on April 25, will implement a constitutional amendment approved by the Mexican federal congress in 2012. The measure will establish accountability at senior levels of the national government, evading the more corrupt and less effective state law enforcement officials. CPJ had advocated widely for the passage of this legislation. In 2008 and 2010, a CPJ delegation met with former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who promised he would implement the bill.
On Wednesday, more than a year after being blocked in Kyrgyzstan by government order, Ferghana News was again accessible to the public without the aid of proxy servers. Most local Internet providers, including the state-owned Kyrgyz Telecom, restored access to the website, Daniil Kislov, Ferghana's editor, told CPJ.
New York, April 9, 2013--Lawyers for Ferghana News, a website blocked in Kyrgyzstan for more than a year, have filed an appeal urging the courts to overturn the ban that they say violates fundamental civil rights. The Committee to Protect Journalists urges the court to find in favor of the website and order restoration of domestic access immediately.
Authoritarian leader Emomali Rahmon praised journalists' mission at a ceremony said to mark the centennial of the Tajik press, but his speech came with a contradictory message: Rahmon urged news outlets not to publish reports that could damage Tajikistan's international image, cause pessimism, or undermine public order. Such was the gap between rhetoric and reality. Rahmon signed into law a measure decriminalizing libel, even as statutes still impose prison penalties of up to five years for coverage deemed insulting to the president. The authorities blocked access to several independent news websites for up to three months after the outlets questioned the official account of a security general's killing and alleged that Rahmon had stepped up surveillance of local religious groups. Among the blocked outlets were both local and international outlets, including the popular Asia Plus, Ferghana News, Lenta, and the BBC, the Dushanbe-based National Association of Independent Mass Media in Tajikistan reported. The authorities also announced the creation of a volunteer-staffed cyberunit to identify supposedly extremist content and material insulting to the president. Citing the unit's findings, the state communications chief declared Facebook a "hotbed of slander" and ordered it blocked nationwide.
President Almazbek Atambayev and his ministers declared their commitment to press freedom and rule of law even as government agencies routinely subjected independent reporters to intimidation. Kyrgyzstan resisted domestic and international calls for the release of Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek investigative reporter and human rights defender serving a life term on fabricated charges, including the murder of a police officer during ethnic violence and inciting ethnic hatred. In a June special report, CPJ found that regional authorities targeted, tortured, and imprisoned Askarov in retaliation for his coverage of the June 2010 conflict between ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz residents in the south, along with his long record of in-depth reporting on abuses by regional police. The 2010 clashes continued to cast a shadow over Kyrgyzstan's press freedom record. In February, the authorities blocked domestic access to the independent regional news website Ferghana News stemming from its reporting on the conflict. Uzbek-language media outlets, which were forced to close in the aftermath of the conflict, began to make their way back into the market, but in smaller numbers, local press freedom groups reported. As in previous years, independent journalists and news outlets battled politicized prosecutions and retaliatory lawsuits. Impunity continued in the 2007 murder of prominent editor Alisher Saipov and in the 2011 attack on his brother, journalist Shokhrukh Saipov.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.