MEDIA FREEDOM WORRIES IN KYRGYZSTAN  Attack on the major independent TV station 
creates a sense of unease about the government's view of media rights.  By 
Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek 

DIVORCE SYSTEM WORKS AGAINST UZBEK WOMEN  Laws give women equal rights, but 
state institutions work to prevent them getting a divorce.  By IWPR staff in 


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Attack on the major independent TV station creates a sense of unease about the 
government's view of media rights. 

By Taalaibek Amanov in Bishkek 

The opposition in Kyrgyzstan is pressing the government to investigate a recent 
arson attack which put the country's only independent nationwide television 
broadcaster out of action. The incident highlights continuing concerns about 
how committed the administration of President Kurmanbek Bakiev is to freedom of 

The attack on Piramida TV took place overnight on September 27 to 28, when 
unidentified assailants beat up two technicians and torched transmission 
facilities, located remotely from the station itself just outside the capital 

No one believed it a coincidence that the broadcast equipment, worth 200,000 US 
dollars, had only just been installed, after the station had been off the air 
for more than a month. The attack took place ten hours after broadcasting 
resumed. Equipment belonging to other TV companies on the same site was left 
untouched, according to Adylbek Biynazarov, Piramida's president.

Oleg Vassil, the vice-president of Piramida, told IWPR that the station had 
been out of operation since August 17, due to the theft of some transmission 
technology. In the latest incident, he said, "Everything has been burnt and we 
have nothing left - we have sent the equipment away to be repaired."

The incident has left journalists and human rights groups worried that the 
Bakiev government is not living up to the hopes invested in it by the people 
who brought it to power in March 2005, when a wave of popular revolts drove 
President Askar Akaev to leave the country. At the time, the new administration 
was expected to implement swift democratic and economic reforms. 

"Piramida, with its independent, honest perspective on domestic current affairs 
is like a thorn in the government's flesh," said Asiya Sasykbaeva, head of the 
Interbilim group. "The technical problems it suffered even before this latest 
incident can be seen as an attempt to curtail freedom of speech."

One of the founders of the Piramida channel, Bekjan Derbishev, suggested things 
were now worse than when Akaev was in charge. "Under Akaev there were similar 
attacks on the channel, but they were relatively civilised - these new ones are 
more thuggish. One begins to remember the Akaev days as a golden age, because 
the people who are in power now are completely out of control. 

"Pyramid was the only independent TV channel left in Kyrgyzstan, and a decision 
has been taken to destroy it physically. The regime will use any means possible 
to eliminate the channel so as to extend its own influence over the public." 

According to Edil Baisalov of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, 
"Piramida's owners are being pressured so that the television company will cave 
in and change its editorial policy."

The head of Bakiev's press office, Dosaly Esenaliev, denies the regime is 
involved in any way. "This incident needs to be investigated by the appropriate 
law-enforcement agencies. I see no political motive. I know they've always had 
technical problems, and this needs to be clarified," he said.

Police told IWPR that they are currently carrying out an investigation. 

The opposition, largely consisting of former Bakiev allies who are 
disillusioned with his policies, has now joined the fray. In an October 10 
statement issued jointly with Piramida staff, the Movement for Reforms - an 
umbrella group of political parties and non-government groups - launched a 
broadside on the regime, speaking of a campaign of terror against the TV 

"Takeover attempts, robberies, arson and threats directed against the 
independent media have become the new government's calling card," said the 
statement. "This has done irreparable damage to Kyrgyzstan's image as a 

The Movement for Reforms held a demonstration outside the Kyrgyz government 
building on October 11, and later had a meeting with Prime Minister Felix 
Kulov, who promised to investigate the Piramida attack. 

The Ata-Meken party earlier issued its own statement accusing the government of 
pressuring independent press, television and radio outlets over the last year.

"The regime has not baulked at anything in order to curb free speech on the NTS 
and KOORT television channels, and at newspapers including Vecherny Bishkek," 
said the party.

The NTS channel has been confined to broadcasting its TV programmes to Bishkek 
and the Chuy valley since the authorities stopped its re-broadcasts in the 
south of the country in May, arguing that they needed the transmitters for a 
new state channel in Osh. The other two cases are less about independence than 
about how the new regime has gained the loyalty of media that used to serve 
Akaev. KOORT was a pro-Akaev station, but in the last year new managers have 
been put to ensure it supports the new regime instead. The Vecherny Bishkek 
newspaper has changed hands so that it too is a pro-government voice.

Piramida has had continual problems over the last year. In December 2005, staff 
mounted a protest outside parliament, taping over their mouths to symbolise 
attempts to silence them. The demonstration followed reports of a hostile 
takeover bid by figures close to the Bakiev administration. 

At the TV station, the 120 staff are left with nothing to do. "As staunch 
supporters of the channel, we come in to work every day and cover important 
political events, but we don't go out on air," said news editor Tilek Bektenov. 
"You get the feeling that they simply want to force us to resign by depriving 
us of our salaries, and then they will turn Piramida into an entertainment 

Taalaibek Amanov is the pseudonym of an independent journalist in Bishkek.


Laws give women equal rights, but state institutions work to prevent them 
getting a divorce.

By IWPR staff in London

Although the law gives women in Uzbekistan the right to divorce their husbands, 
many find it almost impossible since the system is weighted against them and 
the government does its best to hold families together, whatever the wife may 

Despite the growth in overt Muslim observance and Uzbek traditional customs 
since independence in 1991, the state has retained Soviet legislation 
guaranteeing equal rights for women, and the government has policies to promote 
women in work. Legal marriage is governed by secular state institutions rather 
than the clergy, and women have full property and divorce rights.

While these safeguards look good in the law books, in practice things are very 
different. Strong social conventions make it difficult for women to complain 
about domestic abuse, and the ultimate step of divorce is discouraged by local 
community or "mahalla" councils and by the judicial system. 

Adolat, a nurse in Andijan in the eastern Fergana Valley, recalled how she has 
spent months trying to secure a divorce with no success, "I decided to divorce 
my husband when I realised I couldn't stay in his home any more, out of fear 
for the lives of my children. 

"He used to assault me when he was drunk. Like many women in our society, I 
thought I had to put up with it, and that as time went by he would stop. But 
when my children were born, he started to take out his aggression on them.... 
Then I decided to leave home and divorce him. 

"I needed an official divorce, as then my ex-husband would have to provide me 
with accommodation and pay alimony. But for a year now I have been living in a 
rented apartment, unable to get a divorce. The court postponed the hearing for 
six months, as I didn't provide a certificate from the reconciliation 
commission of the mahalla committee."

"Reconciliation commissions", established by the government in 1999, form part 
of the mahalla committees, which in theory are independent neighbourhood 
associations but in reality operate as the lowest rung of local government - 
and as instruments of social control. 

A member of one Andijan reconciliation commission insists they fulfil a 
positive role, "We have century-old traditions according to which the mahalla 
plays an active role in bringing up children and resolving conflicts between 
neighbours and even between family members. 

But a women's rights activist in the same city sees them as an obstacle to 

"The mahalla, or rather its component reconciliation commission, is one of the 
main hindrances towards realising a woman's right to divorce," she said. 

The activist explained that before an application to dissolve a civil marriage 
can go to court, the reconciliation committee reviews the case and tries to 
bring the couple back together. The women's committee attached to the mayor's 
office may also intervene. 

"The mahalla committees usually try to preserve the family at all costs, even 
if one or both partners believe that all possible reasons for doing so have 
been exhausted. And often this is not out of a desire to save the family, but 
to maintain good divorce statistics in the mahalla," said the women's activist, 
who explained that the local committees come under pressure both from local 
government and from a central body called the Mahalla Foundation if divorce is 
seen to be on the increase. 

Aside from the ingrained desire of government institutions to obey their 
superiors and fulfil social objectives as if they were economic plans, the 
authorities' hostility to divorce mirrors the strong societal conservatism in 

Even the country's code of family law contains a stipulation that court 
decisions must strive to preserve the family. A court can postpone a divorce 
hearing for six months if it feels the grounds offered are inadequate, and it 
can inform the mahalla committee or the official women's committee of its 

But as a lawyer in Namangan, another city in the Fergana Valley, noted, 
"Nowhere is it stated that courts cannot accept a divorce claim without a form 
from the mahalla committee. The courts are secretly using this to delay the 
progress of divorce cases." 

Because married women generally live in their husbands' family home, economic 
factors make it difficult for them to strike out on their own, and until they 
get a divorce they are not entitled to anything from an estranged husband. 

"It's hard to feed two children and pay the rent on a nurse's salary, which is 
40,000 sums (32 US dollars)," said Adolat. "My husband knows about my 
difficulties but doesn't even try to help his children."

A member of the women's committee for Namangan said the divorce rate was rising 
both because of economic hardship, and because more women were rebelling 
against the constraints of a traditional marriage.

"On the one hand it is caused by the families' economic situation - arguments 
frequently arise because the husband cannot provide for the family, or the 
women is forced to earn the bulk of the income," she said. "Another factor is 
the crisis in traditional family life. An increasing number of women realise 
that they are not obliged to put up with patriarchal family system, and men 
cannot accept this."

When Adolat's husband came round and caused a scene outside her apartment 
recently, she called the police. But after they found out the couple were 
married, the officers just gave her husband a mild ticking off.  

"They advised him not to treat his family badly, and left without doing 
anything. I went to my lawyer, but she replied that until I get a divorce, I 
will continue to suffer," she said.

(Names have been withheld or changed because of concerns for the safety of 

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