WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 491, April 30, 2007
KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS: BETTER PROTECTION CALLS Journalists caught up in
Kyrgyzstans political battles and general instability remain vulnerable to
harassment, intimidation and assault. By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek
UZBEK FARMERS PUNISHED FOR REJECTING COTTON 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
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KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS: BETTER PROTECTION CALLS
Journalists caught up in Kyrgyzstans 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 Kyrgyzstans Media Representative, a non-government
position that functions as an ombudsman for the sector, said the GKNBs 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 GKNBs investigations unit, tacitly admitted that
there was no court order but refused to explain why the confiscation went ahead
In the wake of the action against the papers, Ilim Karypbekov of Maychievs
Media Representative office, last week urged the authorities to address the
problem of increasing attacks on reporters.
This lack of security [for journalists] doesnt reflect well on the political
situation. Such events tarnish Kyrgyzstans 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
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
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
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
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 dont 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
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
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. Sabirovs father Sabyrjan subsequently died after
setting himself on fire as a protest against the authorities refusal to review
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. IWPRs News Briefing Central Asia
agency provided additional reporting.
UZBEK FARMERS PUNISHED FOR REJECTING COTTON
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 prosecutors 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 Uzbekistans 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
prosecutors office to ensure that local farmers were doing their bit to meet
official production targets.
The prosecutors 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 years cotton and grain quotas. The central government in Tashkent
regularly sacks local governors for not fulfilling the plan.
The prosecutors 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
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
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.
Its 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 prosecutors 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 countrys
(The people quoted in this story have not been named, out of concern for their
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