Kyrgyzstan’s political battles and general instability remain vulnerable to 
harassment, intimidation and assault.  By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek 

against farms that ignored government production targets and instead grew crops 
that would earn them a living.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 


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Journalists caught up in Kyrgyzstan’s political battles and general instability 
remain vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and assault. 

By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek 

The decision by the Kyrgyz authorities to block publication of a number of 
newspapers following opposition demonstrations in Bishkek led to an outcry 
about pressure on the media. But IWPR investigations reveal that journalists 
were suffering harassment some time before the April rally prompted the 
government to act against papers linked to the opposition.

Late on April 19, after police used tear gas to break up an opposition rally 
the authorities believed was getting out of hand on its ninth day, officials 
from the National Security Committee, GKNB, confiscated the print-runs of four 
newspapers – Agym, Kyrgyz Ruhu, Apta, and Aykyn – from the independent printing 
house that publishes them. They also took computer disks containing electronic 
copies of the papers’ editions. 

Aynagul Saparbekkyzy, deputy editor of the Agym newspaper, told IWPR that the 
print-runs were confiscated on the orders of the prosecutor general. But chief 
prosecutor Elmurza Satybaldiev said he had not actually seen the relevant 
documentation so could not comment on the case.

Shamaral Maychiev, who is Kyrgyzstan’s Media Representative, a non-government 
position that functions as an ombudsman for the sector, said the GKNB’s actions 
contravened media legislation which requires a court order to have been issued 
prior to the seizure of journalistic material. 

Medetbek Saliev, head of the GKNB’s investigations unit, tacitly admitted that 
there was no court order but refused to explain why the confiscation went ahead 
without it.

In the wake of the action against the papers, Ilim Karypbekov of Maychiev’s 
Media Representative office, last week urged the authorities to address the 
problem of increasing attacks on reporters.

“This lack of security [for journalists] doesn’t reflect well on the political 
situation. Such events tarnish Kyrgyzstan’s image in the international 
community, which assigns high importance to protecting human rights and freedom 
of speech,” he told IWPR. 

A number of reporters suffered assaults during the April 11-19 rally, including 
Aziz Egemberdiev of the www.24.kg news agency, beaten up as he was phoning in a 
report to his editors. Film crews from the independent Kyrgyz television 
channel NTS and from Russia and Kazakstan had camera equipment broken by people 
in the crowd, suggesting that not all violence is attributable to the 

A coalition of non-government groups subsequently asked the government to grant 
journalists special protected status so that they can be safe in such 

In the weeks running up to the April protests, three journalists were been 
beaten up in what are thought to have been politically motivated attacks.

On March 27, Daniyar Isanov, a news presenter with NTS, was attacked and beaten 
by four men in Bishkek, and had to be taken to hospital with severe facial 
injuries. His assailant made it clear the assault was because he was from NTS, 
which is sympathetic to the opposition.

Four days later, Talantbek Sopuev, who reports for an opposition TV station 
called September, was also hospitalised after being set upon by a group of 
about 40 people. The beating followed threats made to Sopuev after he produced 
a report critical of a pro-government rally in the southern city of Jalalabad. 

Although there are clear dividing lines between independent and opposition 
media outlets and the state-owned media controlled by the administration of 
President Kurmanbek Bakiev, assaults on journalistic freedom are by no means 
confined to opponents of the regime. 

The third attack involved a journalist with Kyrgyz state TV, Kayrat Birimkulov, 
who was assaulted by two men in Bishkek on March 16. The TV station had 
received threatening phone calls warning it to stop an investigation Birimkulov 
was leading into allegations of corruption in the state-owned Kyrgyz Railways.

Birimkulov remained defiant, saying, “I promise that as I soon as my health 
recovers, I will continue my project.”

These attacks prompted press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders to 
write to the Kyrgyz authorities in early April calling for an end to violence 
against journalists. 

Tursunbek Akun, head of the presidential Human Rights Commission is overseeing 
investigations into the attacks on Sopuev, Birimkulov and Isanov, and he admits 
government officials are responsible for some acts of violence committed 
against journalists.

“There have been cases of assaults on journalists by state officials and 
criminal elements, and I condemn them categorically,” he said. “This treatment 
of media employees undermines the [reputation of ] the authorities in the 
international community.”

Akun pointed to areas of progress, for example proposals to scrap articles of 
the criminal code which make libel and insulting officials criminal offences. 
The changes have yet to be passed by parliament.

“I believe this is the first step towards protecting journalists,” he said.

According to Marat Tokoev, the head of the non-government Public Association of 
Journalists, recent attacks on journalists are connected with the increasing 
political tensions in Kyrgyzstan, which culminated in the April opposition 

“Society has become extremely politicised, and people have started to divide 
the media into good and bad,” he told IWPR. 

Alisher Mamasaliev, head of another non-government group called Civic Platform, 
is concerned that so many journalists have been attacked in such a short space 
of time. 

“The regime is unable to ensure protection or adequate redress for media 
employees,” he said. “Freedom of speech and the right of access to information 
have become a life-threatening affair in our society.”

Kyrgyz interior minister Bolotbek Nogoibaev rejects calls to grant special 
treatment to journalists, saying the protections already in place are adequate. 

In the present turbulent environment, he said, “not only media employees but 
also ordinary people get attacked. I don’t think we should focus attention 
solely on journalists - all citizens have equal rights…. If we start protecting 
journalists today, then doctors, teachers and aircraft pilots will put forward 
similar demands in the future.”

Nogoibaev suggested that some reporters try to exploit attacks on them to get 
publicity. In such cases, he said, “Our [police] staff usually reach the 
conclusion that it was a coincidence, but journalists use it as PR to draw 
attention to themselves.” 

The president of the Foundation For International Tolerance, Raya Kadyrova, 
disagrees, arguing that journalists constitute a special case who need 
particular protections. 

“We have law-enforcement agencies, courts, the [human rights] ombudsman and the 
State Secretary, all of which have a remit that includes working with the 
media,” she said. “These institutions should shoulder the responsibility for 
what happens to journalists.”

Some assaults on journalists have less to do with politics than with the power 
of organised crime groups, which have become bolder and more influential in the 
two years since President Bakiev came to power. 

In February, Elena Ageeva, correspondent for the newspaper MK-World 
Weekly-Kyrgyzstan was forced to abandon an investigation into the arrest of a 
man called Abubakry Sabirov. A known gangland figure is alleged to have close 
ties to the investigators holding Sabirov, leading to suspicions that he was 
wrongfully arrested. 

Ageeva said that the criminal involved threatened to kill her, and that she 
also received several anonymous phone calls saying that the caller knew her 
address and where her child went to school. These threats led the newspaper to 
scrap the investigation. Sabirov’s father Sabyrjan subsequently died after 
setting himself on fire as a protest against the authorities’ refusal to review 
the case. 

Elena Voronina, the head of the non-government Interbilim group, says 
journalists could do more to help themselves if they were not so divided. 

“I think that our journalists lack solidarity, and so they are subject to 
persecution,” she said.

In her view, it is not always clear who is behind such attacks, so journalists 
need to be more open about threats or violence directed against them. 

“Any profession, including journalism, should be transparent,” she said.

Voronina thinks journalists could also help themselves by ensuring they remain 
objective and avoid taking sides in the political confrontation.

“In my opinion, the media should aim for the golden mean, and not serve the 
interests of certain political groups,” she said.

Mamasaliev agrees that solidarity among journalists – whatever the political 
stance of their employer – is crucial to defending their position. 

“Any pressure on a media employee should be a signal to all journalists to 
mobilise for an immediate response, and there should be no divisions into 
state-run or independent media,” he said.

Jipara Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR contributor. IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia 
agency provided additional reporting.


Prosecutors seek retribution against farms that ignored government production 
targets and instead grew crops that would earn them a living.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Farmers and officials in eastern Uzbekistan are likely to face criminal charges 
for growing crops that they can sell, instead of the cotton and wheat demanded 
by the state.

The case highlights the problems facing farmers in Uzbekistan, who in theory 
belong to the private sector but in practice are tied into Soviet-style rules 
under which they are bound to grow cotton and grain and sell it to the state at 
artificially low prices. 

The prosecutor’s office in Kuva district in the densely-populated Fergana 
valley is investigating a number of farm heads, as well as several officials 
from local government offices concerned with land and agriculture issues who 
are being blamed for letting farmers get away with it.

“A preliminary investigation is under way, and depending on the findings, a 
decision will be reached on whether to press criminal or administrative [civil 
law] charges,” said assistant district prosecutor Farhod Haidarov in remarks 
broadcast on television on April 15.

The farmers are suspected of having breached contracts drawn up by government 
requiring them to grow a certain quota of Uzbekistan’s two strategic crops. 
Cotton is a major earner of export dollars for the government, while wheat is 
grown as part of a strategy of making the country self-sufficient. 

The investigation was launched after a routine inspection by the Kuva 
prosecutor’s office to ensure that local farmers were doing their bit to meet 
official production targets.

The prosecutor’s office cited one case where 12 farms were contracted to grow 
cotton over an area of 40 hectares, but 22 hectares of this land were found to 
have been planted with strawberries, onions and other crops which the farmers 
could easily sell at local markets. 

Another farm, called Bahor, was ordered to set aside 20 hectares and produce 25 
tonnes of wheat grain on it, even though its main business is not crops for 
human consumption, but raising livestock and growing enough fodder to sustain 
its animals. In the event, the farm was discovered to have put just six 
hectares under wheat and used the spare land to grow marketable fruit and 

The authorities are furious with the farms, which they fear will make Kuva 
district, and in turn the larger Fergana administrative region, fail to fulfil 
this year’s cotton and grain quotas. The central government in Tashkent 
regularly sacks local governors for not “fulfilling the plan”.

The prosecutor’s office intends to make an example of the farmers if they are 
charged. But it is unclear whether the authorities have the legal powers to do 
so – it is not a criminal offence to plant other crops instead of cotton. And a 
law on monopolies prohibits the state authorities from interfering in 
independent commercial entities, such as these farms.

A former regional official, who did not want to be named, explained the paradox 
between the free market that exists on paper and the planned economy that still 
dominates in reality.

“A free market economy has been declared a priority,” he said. “But the 
authorities flagrantly violate the principles of this by forcing farmers to 
sign contracts from which they will see no profit.”

Farmers are left in penury because the government pays them a pittance for the 
cotton and grain it forces them to grow, and they are not allowed to sell their 
quotas privately. 

“The low state purchase prices for grain and cotton mean that farmers lead a 
miserable existence,” said a farm boss in the Kokand region, also in the 
Fergana valley.

Payments for these crops are deposited in farmers bank accounts, often after a 
long delay. Even when it arrives, farmers find it hard to access the money, as 
one man found out to his cost. 

“Last year, I was prevented from transferring money from my account to pay the 
institute where my son is studying,” he said. “Even though I had enough money 
in the account, I was forced to take out a loan at a high rate of interest.”

By contrast, fruit and vegetables can be quickly turned into hard cash, and 
will sell at a realistic market price.

“It’s more profitable for a farmer to grow cucumbers or grapes on an area of 
one-fifth of a hectare than to have cotton over 20 hectares,” said the farm 
boss in Kokand region.

Another reason why farmers are unhappy about growing cotton and wheat is that 
government targets are rigid and do not take the vagaries of weather into 

Last year, the crops fared badly and some Fergana valley farmers failed to meet 
their targets. They were called into local prosecutors’ offices, where they 
were threatened and ordered to make up the shortfall at any cost. 

“I am a woman, but I was summoned to the prosecutor’s office after 11 pm one 
night,” recalled the head of one farm. “After this, I had to find the right 
people to help me to fulfil the plan.”

“Finding the right people” usually involves a combination of ingenuity and 
bribery. Some farmers buy extra wheat or cotton to make up the numbers, and 
then pay off staff at the government purchase office to issue a receipt showing 
that they have met their target.

This comes at a cost - farmers who resorted to this measure last year said the 
amount they got from the government was half what they had paid for the crops 
they bought on the open market.

But even this may be worth it given the skewed economics of Uzbek agriculture. 
Farmers have realised that the opportunity cost of growing high-earning cash 
crops more than offsets the bribes and other outlays involved in topping up 
their cotton or grain quota. 

As a result, the authorities have been forced to apply even more punitive 
measures than usual this year, although local commentators question whether 
prosecutions really represent an effective incentive for the country’s 
agricultural producers. 

(The people quoted in this story have not been named, out of concern for their 

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