WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 605, March 10, 2010

UZBEKISTAN’S HIDDEN TRIALS  Secrecy of proceedings raises serious questions 
about due process.  By Kamilla Abdullaeva in Uzbekistan

TASHKENT ACTS TO CUT CROSS-BORDER TRADE  Closing border checkpoint to cars 
reflects state’s hostility to small-time importers.  By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova 
and Beksultan Sadyrkulov in Bishkek

TAJIKISTAN: MORE PARTIES DON’T MAKE PLURALISM  Five political parties instead 
of three now hold seats in parliament, but only one of them really counts.  By 
Nargis Hamrabaeva and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

MANAGING POLITICAL CONSENSUS IN KYRGYZSTAN  New popular assembly seen as way of 
strengthening centralised control, not devolving decision-making.  By Pavel 
Dyatlenko in Bishkek

KYRGYZ JOURNALISM UNDER PRESSURE ON ALL FRONTS  Tendency towards playing safe 
by avoiding controversial subject-matter.  By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

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UZBEKISTAN’S HIDDEN TRIALS

Secrecy of proceedings raises serious questions about due process.

By Kamilla Abdullaeva in Uzbekistan

Human rights defenders in Uzbekistan have discovered that trials of alleged 
Islamic radicals are taking place across the country in secrecy, with no one 
allowed access to the courtroom. They fear the tactic is designed to prevent 
information about abuse in detention leaking out, 

The Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders reports that one 
secret trial that ended on February 26 involved a group of 15 people accused of 
anti-constitutional activity, membership of Islamic extremist groups and 
“inciting ethnic and religious animosity”. At the time this article was 
published, sentence had yet to be passed, but the law prescribes prison terms 
of 15 to 20 years for such offences. 

The trial took place not far from the capital Tashkent, at the Chirchik 
district criminal court, where another case was being heard in a different 
courtroom, this time for the murder last year of Police Colonel Hasan Asadov, 
head of the interior ministry’s counter-terrorism department, and Abror 
Abrorov, deputy head of the Kukeldash madrassa or Islamic school; as well as 
for a failed assassination attempt on the capital’s chief imam or mosque 
leader, Anvar-Qori Tursunov. 

Around 70 people are believed to be standing trial in this case. 

“All the accused have been forced to take [defence] lawyers provided by the 
state, and these have been required by investigators to sign statements that 
they would not reveal information about proceedings in the courtroom,” said 
Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group, referring to both the trials in 
Chirchik. “The accusations were handed to the lawyers before the trial started, 
and taken away from them when it ended, so as to prevent information leaking 
out.” 

Elsewhere in the country, a similar shroud of secrecy surrounds three trials – 
two involving 67 and seven people, respectively, in the southern Syr Darya 
region, and another with 24 people in court in the central Jizak province, 
according to the Ezgulik human rights right group. In the case involving seven 
defendants, the accusations are known to relate to their alleged membership of 
Islamic groups named as Jihodchilar and Birodarlar (“Jihadists” and 
“Brothers”). 

Nothing is being said officially about these trials, and IWPR’s request for 
more information was turned down by a Tashkent judicial representative. 

Human rights defenders in Uzbekistan believe the veil of silence is intended to 
cover up the lack of real substance behind the allegations. 

“There have clearly been flaws in the investigations,” said Diloram Iskhakova, 
a member of the Expert Working Group, an independent association working on 
rule-of-law issues. 

Iskhakova fears that defendants may have “made confessions under torture, and 
in court they will talk about this and say they didn’t do what they are accused 
of doing”. 

A police officer who declined to be named insisted that radical Islamic groups 
were a real danger to Uzbekistan, and were recruiting among the Muslim 
community. It was impossible that the defendants in the ongoing cases had ended 
up in court for no reason, he said. 

“It would be stupid to deny there are adherents of Jihodchilar, Birodarlar, 
Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Nur movement and 
Salafis, who disseminate extremist religious ideas here,” he said. “They’re 
skilled at disguising their views, but they represent a threat to the country, 
and it’s our duty to safeguard the public and make them admit to their 
activities.” 

Ikramov says there may well be people who are guilty as charged, but pre-trial 
investigations into these cases must be conducted within the bounds of the law 
and the court proceedings themselves must take place openly, with independent 
lawyers and human rights defenders granted full access. 

The secrecy surrounding the current trials suggests that defendants may have 
been mistreated beforehand, he said, adding, “We are aware that investigations 
entail the use of torture, so they authorities find it inconvenient to hold 
open trials.” 

Uzbekistan has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other 
Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and has amended 
its own national legislation to ban the practice, but human rights defenders 
say physical mistreatment is routinely used as a way of extracting confessions. 

An alternative report which three rights groups are submitting to the United 
Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights maintains that “torture and 
abuse by police and investigating authorities remain systemic, unpunished and 
are tacitly encouraged by government officials”. 

Vasila Inoyatova of the Ezgulik group says her organisation has received around 
50 letters from relatives of people picked up for the murder case now being 
heard in Chirchik. 

“After the attack on Anvor-Qori, many [Muslim] believers were accused of the 
crime,” she said. “In reality they had nothing to do with it, but under 
torture, they may be forced to confess to a crime they did not commit.” 

More trials may be in the offing. Since mid-January, the whereabouts of several 
individuals in the southern Kashkadarya region have been unknown, and relatives 
fear they may be being held in custody in secrecy, so they can be coerced into 
confessing to crimes relating to Muslim extremist activity. These 
disappearances follow the detention of some 30 Muslim women in November (see 
Wave of Arrests Ahead of Eid in Uzbekistan, News Briefing CentralAsia, 
17-Nov-09.) 

Kamilla Abdullaeva is the pseudonym of a journalist in Uzbekistan. 

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights 
Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European 
Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR 
and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. 


TASHKENT ACTS TO CUT CROSS-BORDER TRADE

Closing border checkpoint to cars reflects state’s hostility to small-time 
importers.

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova and Beksultan Sadyrkulov in Bishkek

Uzbekistan has stopped vehicles using a border crossing to Kyrgyzstan, 
apparently to stop a flood of consumer goods bought by traders at a giant 
market just across the frontier.

Initial indications, however, are that Uzbek traders have adjusted to the move 
by taking a longer route and combining orders for several people, or by 
crossing the border illegally as some have always done.

The official explanation for the partial closure of the crossing at Karasuv 
(Karasuu in Kyrgyz) is that there is not enough traffic to justify it. 

Local residents and analysts view the unilateral move as a bid to stop an 
outflow of hard currency from Uzbekistan’s highly controlled economy. They 
believe Uzbekistan is planning to construct its own, similar trading post.

Economic crisis has exacerbated Uzbekistan’s shortage of foreign currency as 
demand for country’s main export commodity, cotton, has declined.

Traders are drawn to the Karasuu wholesale market just over the frontier in 
Kyrgyzstan where they can load up vehicles with cheap Chinese consumer goods. 
But with only pedestrians allowed to cross, the Karasuv route is now 
unattractive.

An entrepreneur who is a frequent visitor to the Karasuu market told IWPR that 
he had not seen a dramatic drop in trade volumes, “For the moment at least, I 
haven’t seen that. Goods are being smuggled as before. Citizens of both 
countries continue to cross the border illegally.”

A resident of the Kyrgyz city of Osh told IWPR, “Since the border crossing has 
been closed, trade between Karasuu market and the neighbouring Andijan region 
has fallen, as traders now have to make a detour through another crossing, 
Dustlik. The smuggling goes on…. People have started to put more planning into 
their trips – traders collect several orders and only then go on a trip.”

Unlike Kyrgyzstan, land-locked Uzbekistan does not have a border with China, so 
goods from that country come in via Kyrgyz territory. Many of them end up being 
resold at a market in the city of Andijan, just inside Uzbekistan.

The Uzbeks gave official notification that they were closing the Karasuv 
crossing at a meeting with Kyrgyz border officials on February 13. The deputy 
chairman of the Kyrgyz border service, Cholponbek Turusbekov, expressed hope 
that the problem could be resolved through negotiation, adding, “Every crossing 
is of strategic importance.” 

Turusbekov said traffic heading for the border would be directed to another 
crossing-point, Dustlik. Uzbekistan earlier imposed restrictions on Kyrgyz 
citizens using Dustlik, allowing them a maximum of one trip every three months, 
but as a result of the meeting, the restrictions were cancelled.

Salkyn Abdukarieva from the press office of the Kyrgyz border service told 
RFE/RL radio on March 3 that the authorities in Uzbekistan had not given any 
indication whether the closure was temporary or permanent.

The 1,400 kilometre-long Uzbek-Kyrgyz frontier loops round and through the 
Fergana valley, and has 14 border crossings. 

Local residents and analysts interviewed by IWPR believe the Uzbek authorities 
decided to close the Karasuv crossing to road traffic because they plan to 
build their own wholesale market for the direct import of Chinese goods, doing 
away with Kyrgyzstan’s role as a transit hub.

Kyrgyzstan’s Karasuu market is a 15-minute drive from the frontier and sprawls 
over 15 hectares. It has an estimated daily turnover of half a million US 
dollars and most of the goods sold are thought to be destined for Uzbekistan. 
With 27 million people, that country is a bigger market than Kyrgyzstan, which 
has just over five million.


On the busiest days, Tuesdays and Saturdays, up to 50,000 people are buying and 
selling at the market. 

Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst said Uzbekistan’s 
policy of restricting on imports had enriched traders at the Karasuu market by 
creating a shortage of basic consumer goods across the border.

“Tashkent has done its sums, albeit belatedly,” she said. “Day after day, Uzbek 
citizens living in the densely populated Fergana valley have been leaving huge 
sums of money in Kyrgyzstan.”

Uzbek traders had no alternative to the Kyrgyz market, Shermatova said. “Now 
with the construction of their own market... the financial flows will end up in 
the pockets of local [Uzbek] traders, the local administration and bureaucrats.”

Closing the border was central to plans for a new Uzbek market, she said. 

Construction of the market was first mooted by Uzbek president Islam Karimov 
during a visit to Andijan region last year. State television quoted him as 
telling local border guards that the frequent traffic of Uzbek citizens into 
Kyrgyzstan needed to stop.

“Let us open a market for our own traders here. We have containers, vehicles, 
and everything needed to create such a market,” he was quoted as saying. 

Shortly after his visit, Karimov signed a decree reducing the value of goods 
for personal consumption allowed to be brought undeclared into Uzbekistan from 
50 to ten dollars.

A Kyrgyz source said the numbers using Karasuu had been declining since that 
restriction was imposed, and the trend had continued with the border closure.

A 23-year old resident of Andijan who gave his name as Bahodir agreed that the 
restrictions were linked to plans for a new market inside Uzbekistan. 

“If we have a market on Uzbek territory, all the proceeds from sales and 
profits will stay in Uzbekistan,” he said.

A resident of Andijan who works at the central city market said construction 
had started at a new site outside town. The work seems to be on hold at the 
moment, probably because of funding difficulties, he added.

Professor Orozbek Moldaliev, a political analyst and regional security expert 
in Kyrgyzstan, said Uzbekistan wanted to reduce the amount of goods passing 
unchecked across the border, and to become a regional centre of wholesale trade 
itself. 

But analysts and local residents argue that creating an Uzbek equivalent of the 
Karasuu market will not in itself stop smuggling across the border, and its 
success will depend on whether people think they are better off shopping there 
than in Kyrgyzstan.

“If, for whatever reason, the market cannot satisfy the demand, I assure you 
the buyers will find loopholes and ways to visit the Kyrgyz market,” said 
Shermatova. “In reality, the border between the two countries is not a barrier 
for smart people. If you have money, you can always cross over wherever you 
want and carry whatever you want.”

A 25-year-old resident of the Kyrgyz border village of Bazar Korgon, who gave 
his name as Bazarbek, frequently visits Karasuu market and Andijan. He agreed 
that people would have to be convinced that shopping at the new market was 
worth it, and would do so only if prices were attractive.

Economic expert Ayilchy Sarybaev said Uzbekistan would struggle to benefit from 
its move because Kyrgyzstan, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, 
was in a better position to import from China, also a member country. 

“That’s obvious, because Uzbekistan is not a WTO member and the cost of 
importing any goods from China without going through Kyrgyzstan will be 
higher,” he said.

Sarybaev believes the Uzbek decision to restrict cross-border travel is 
short-sighted, “Any restrictions will lead to smuggling and increase the black 
economy, which is not desirable for either Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.”

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained contributor and Beksultan Sadyrkulov 
is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.


TAJIKISTAN: MORE PARTIES DON’T MAKE PLURALISM

Five political parties instead of three now hold seats in parliament, but only 
one of them really counts.

By Nargis Hamrabaeva and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

Tajikistan’s parliamentary election has ended as expected in victory for the 
governing party, amid claims of serious irregularities levelled by 
international observers and opposition parties.

The biggest change is that two more parties have entered the lower house of 
parliament, although neither of them is from the opposition and with only two 
seats each, they are unlikely to make much of an impact. 

At a press conference on March 1 announcing the preliminary election results, 
the chairman of the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda, CCER, 
Mirzoali Boltuev, said the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had won with 72 per 
cent of the vote. 

The Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, came a distant second with 7.7 per cent, 
followed by the Communists with 7.2 per cent. 

Following this initial announcement, the CCER issued a press release containing 
revised figures. These showed that the Agrarian Party and the Economic 
Development Party, previously credited with 4.9 and 4.7 per cent of the vote, 
had now crept up to 5.01 and 5.09 per cent, respectively, enough to get them 
over the five per cent threshold needed to qualify for representation in 
parliament.

The opposition Democratic, Socialist and Social Democratic parties were ruled 
out as they gained less than one per cent of the vote each, according to the 
CCER.

The percentages are used to calculate the division of 22 of the 63 seats in the 
lower chamber, which are set aside for political parties under a proportional 
representation system based on candidate lists. The results are now in for all 
but one of the remaining 41 seats, which were contested on a 
first-past-the-post basis. In one constituency, the vote is to held again. 

Pending that re-run, the PDP has secured 45 seats – 16 by the party-list 
system, and the rest in first-past-the-post constituencies. The other four 
successful parties get two seats each – the IRP and the Communists solely based 
on the party list, whereas the Agrarian and Economic Development parties each 
get one elected and one “list” candidate into the legislature. A further nine 
candidates were elected as independents.

The result is disappointing for both the Islamic party and the Communists. The 
former merely hold onto the two seats it won last time, while the Communists 
have lost two of the four seats they held until now. 

Among politics-watchers, the arrival of two more parties in parliament is not 
being seen as a major turnaround. The more sceptical see it as a poor attempt 
to demonstrate that Tajikistan is becoming more pluralist and democratic.

The Agrarian and Economic Development parties, both regarded as supportive of 
the current administration, did not compete in the last election since they 
were only set up in 2006.

Kiromsho Sharifzoda, a politics lecturer at the Tajik National University, says 
the Agrarian Party does not have much of a track-record and is little more than 
a prop for the current administration. 

Political analyst Parviz Mullojonov agreed, describing the Agrarians and the 
Economic Development Party as “essentially two branches of the governing party”.

Other parties, both in and out of parliament, say they were robbed of their 
rightful shares of the vote. The IRP and the Social Democrats have both said 
they will take the CCER to court over irregularities they allege took place on 
voting day.

The IRP’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, says the tally kept by his campaign 
headquarters suggested the party won around 30 per cent of the vote, and that 
“all independent observers say that we got in the region of 35 to 40 per cent 
of the vote". 

SDP chairman Rahmatullo Zoirov, whose party won under one per cent, said exit 
polls at one polling station in the capital Dushanbe would put its figure 
upwards of 12 and possibly close to 15 per cent.

A number of analysts agree that the SDP, a party that is vocally critical of 
President Imomali Rahmon’s administration, should have done better than the 
poll results indicate, as it has been improving its standing in Dushanbe and in 
urban centres in the northern Soghd region and in Badakhshan in the southeast.

“I don’t believe that the SDP failed to surmount the five per cent threshold,” 
said Sharifzoda. “Unfortunately, in Tajikistan votes are distributed rather 
than won.”

Even the Communist Party, which rarely voices harsh criticism of the 
authorities, believes some of its votes must have been quietly transferred to 
the PDP. 

“This election that has taken place is in reality just a parody,” said party 
leader Shodi Shabdolov at a press conference after the results were announced.

Western election monitors say the conduct of the vote was deeply flawed. 

In its initial findings issued on March 1, the OSCE’s election observation 
mission spoke of “serious irregularities… including high incidence of observed 
proxy and family voting, despite the stated aim of the authorities of 
Tajikistan to hold more democratic and transparent elections”. 

"I'm happy that election day took place in a generally good atmosphere, but I'm 
even more disappointed that these elections failed on many basic democratic 
standards,” said Pia Christmas-Moeller, vice-president of the OSCE 
Parliamentary Assembly and coordinator of the election observation mission. 
“Such serious irregularities weaken genuine democratic progress. There is still 
a long way to go, and hopefully the new parliament will take up this 
challenge." 

The OSCE report did note “certain small positive steps”, such as making the 
composition of some electoral commissions more inclusive than they were in 
previous elections. But as observer mission head Artis Pabriks said, “The 
stated will of the authorities to follow democratic procedures did not 
translate into concrete measures to address the significant shortcomings that 
marred the campaign environment and election day". 

A statement from the United States embassy in Dushanbe highlighted similar 
problems with the ballot, such as widespread failure to require voters to 
produce identification, procedural irregularities during the count, and cases 
where local electoral officials showed a bias in favour of the PDP.

The CCER’s administrative chief, Muhibullo Dodojonov appeared to sidestep the 
serious nature of the allegations. 

"After every election, someone is happy and someone is unhappy," he said in 
remarks quoted by Reuters.

PDP deputy leader Safar Safarov glossed over the criticisms levelled by western 
election monitors and focused on the praise offered by observers from other 
former Soviet states. 

“International observers, inter alia from the missions sent by the Commonwealth 
of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, have confirmed 
that fair and transparent elections took place in Tajikistan,” he said in 
remarks quoted by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti. “Our party’s own 
observers did not identify irregularities.”

Safarov said his party’s chairman, President Rahmonov, was happy with both the 
electoral process and the outcome. 

Nargis Hamrabaeva is an IWPR-trained journalist and Lola Olimova is IWPR Tajik 
editor.


MANAGING POLITICAL CONSENSUS IN KYRGYZSTAN

New popular assembly seen as way of strengthening centralised control, not 
devolving decision-making. 

By Pavel Dyatlenko in Bishkek

Analysts in Kyrgyzstan have expressed doubt about whether the Kurultay of 
Accord, a new consultative body set up to inform decision-making, will live up 
to its stated purpose of serving as a platform for debate among a wide 
cross-section of society. 

The selection of candidates for the 750-member assembly or Kurultay ended on 
March 2, and it is due to convene as early as March 23. Of the total, 150 are 
appointed by President Kurbanbek Bakiev, who first unveiled plans for the body 
last September (see Doubts About Kyrgyz Political Reform Plan), , while the 
rest were elected across the country. 

The idea is that the Kurultay’s membership should reflect Kyrgyzstan’s 
regional, ethnic and religious diversity and thus be able to articulate public 
concerns to the central authorities. In a televised address on January 21, the 
day he signed a decree establishing the assembly, President Bakiev said it 
would facilitate “civic consolidation, the balancing of interests, and 
opportunities to take important decisions on matters of state”. 

The main opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, boycotted the elections 
to the assembly, saying it would instead hold its own kurultay on March 17, six 
days before the official one opens, and would use it to raise issues like the 
privatisation of state-run electricity and telecoms providers, the recent leap 
in utilities prices, and the continued detention of people it regards as 
political prisoners. 

Sergei Masaulov, director of the Institute for Strategic Analysis and 
Assessment, which operates under the president’s office, offered a defence of 
the official Kurultay when he spoke at a discussion event on February 16 
featuring representatives of political parties, NGOs and the president’s 
office, 

“The Kurultay of Accord is a very important structure; it is a classic variant 
on a consultative body that is simultaneously traditional and contemporary. The 
direction in which the country is to develop needs to be determined by taking 
the opinions of the public and the territories into account. To do that, we 
need accord,” he said. “It should be a platform for consultation, and of course 
it must be made up of authoritative individuals, not people who are close to 
the authorities or who wield administrative influence… they must set out the 
most pressing issues before the Kurultay, not ones that concern me and my own 
district, but general ones.” 

What no one has yet explained is how the Kurultay’s status and functions differ 
from the role of the country’s elected standing parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh. 

The assembly is only one of a series of changes that Bakiev is making to the 
way Kyrgyzstan is governed. Unveiling these reforms last year, he portrayed 
them as an attempt to create a more technocratic system of government that 
would sweep away bureaucracy and get down to the business of tackling 
Kyrgyzstan’s numerous pressing economic problems. However, the net result 
appears to be more power concentrated in the president’s hands, through a new 
body called the Presidential Institution responsible, inter alia, for foreign 
affairs, the security service, and economic planning – all functions that used 
to reside with the government and its ministers. (see Kyrgyz Reforms Leave 
President Stronger) 

While the Kurultay is intended to look like an independent counterbalance to 
centralised authority, some political analysts doubt that it will really serve 
as a bridge for dialogue between the people and their rulers, since it is the 
latter who are setting the agenda. Instead, the forum may merely be used as a 
way to grant a semblance of popular legitimacy to difficult decisions made by 
the central authorities. 

Two leading non-government groups have already complained that the selection 
process for the Kurultay and its future management arrangements are being 
tightly controlled. 

In a statement on February 10, the Coalition Against Corruption and People Who 
Change the World noted that the organising committee was dominated by the head 
of the president’s office and other senior officials, and said it lacked 
transparency and was not providing equal participation for all citizens. The 
head of the organising committee will continue to oversee the assembly’s work 
his conduct of kurultai affairs after the election process is over. He will 
play a pivotal role in deciding the Kurultai’s chairman, setting its agenda, 
and deciding which of its recommendations should be submitted to state 
institutions. 

“The procedures for setting it [the Kurultay] up are being influenced by the 
administrative apparatus, as the delegates are being nominated... by officials 
and [elected] deputies at different levels,” said the joint statement. 

Speaking at the February 16 round-table event, political commentator Elmira 
Nogoibaeva argued that there was a contradiction between Bakiev’s attempt to 
streamline government and the resurrection of the concept of the kurultay, 
historically a broad forum at which Kyrgyz tribal leaders would attempt to 
reach consensus. 

“In the modern democratic tradition, its equivalent is parliament,” she said. 
“So in future, Kyrgyzstan will have two elected institutions, the Kurultay of 
Accord, which is mainly elected on a territorial basis, and parliament, elected 
from party lists.” 

Nogoibaeva questions why Kyrgyz reforms involve seem to entail a constant 
stream of proposals for new institutions with “fairly ill-defined aims, powers 
and prospects”. If a broader representative body than the current single 
chamber legislature is needed, she recommends going back to the parliament that 
existed until 2007. 

“Given that our party system is undeveloped, it would have made complete sense 
to retain the two-chamber parliament rather than replace it with bigger, more 
cumbersome and expanding institutions,” said Nogoibaeva. “It would cost less 
and offer greater legitimacy.” 

Political analyst Marat Kazakpaev pointed out that Kyrgyzstan has experienced 
several kurultays in recent years, convened both by former president Askar 
Akaev and by his political opponents in an attempt to galvanise public support. 

“Frankly speaking, I think it’s is a step backwards; we’re trying to solve our 
problems using the methods of the past,” he said. 

Others point out that President Bakiev himself devised a different consultative 
body, the Public Chamber, only a year ago. The chamber’s 65 members are mostly 
picked by the president, with 15 chosen by parliament and a range of interest 
groups. While remaining low-profile, it has involved the public in hearings on 
proposed legislation and dealt with hundreds of complaints concerning the 
police, land rights, and welfare benefits. 

Meanwhile, Citizens Against Corruption has published an agenda that it would 
like to see discussed at the Kurultay of Accord. The key issues it identified 
were freedom of assembly, the need to cushion poor people against the effects 
of economic crisis, and a demand that the interior ministry provide regular 
updates on its investigations into murders and assaults committed against 
journalists. 

Pavel Dyatlenko is an analyst with Polis Asia, a think-tank in Bishkek.


KYRGYZ JOURNALISM UNDER PRESSURE ON ALL FRONTS

Tendency towards playing safe by avoiding controversial subject-matter.

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

A succession of newspaper closures and attacks on individual journalists is 
curbing the way press freedom is exercised in Kyrgyzstan, once regarded as the 
country with the most liberal media environment in Central Asia 

A string of newspapers have been forced to shut down over the past couple of 
years, starting with the popular De Facto, whose editor Cholpon Orozobekova 
sought political asylum abroad after its closure in spring 2008. Another 
editor, Bermet Bukasheva, left the country last year, and her newspaper, Litsa, 
switched away from its opposition leanings under new owners. 

The social-political paper Achyk Sayasat folded in summer 2009, followed by 
Reporter Bishkek, which had financial problems, while Uchur teetered on the 
brink as it faced a libel suit. 

According to its own data, the interior ministry has recorded and investigated 
only 28 of these over the same period, and taken legal action on 23. Few of the 
major cases have been solved, including the murders of Alisher Saipov in 2007 
and Gennady Pavlyuk in December 2009. 

Meanwhile, the litany of attacks on individuals just in the last 12 months 
makes depressing reading. The non-government Institute of the Media 
Representative says that in the last four years there have been 60 attacks on 
journalists in Kyrgyzstan. 

The names of some of the closed newspapers crop again in some of these attacks. 
For example, Reporter Bishkek political observer Syrgak Abdyldaev was beatened 
and stabbed last March, and Achyk Sayasat’s deputy director Abdivahab Moniev 
injured by unknown assailants last June. 

The casualty statistics for the last year include an assault and robbery in 
March 2009 targeting Yelena Agaeeva and Ulugbek Babakulov, both of the 
Moskovsky Komsomolets v Kyrgyzstane; an attack on Tribuna newspaper editor 
Yrysbek Omurzakov in May; a serious assault in November followed by death 
threats against Kubanych Zholdoshev, a reporter for the Osh Shamy paper in the 
south of the country; and the beating in mid-December of Baltinfo news agency 
reporter Alexander Yevgrafov. 

There have been two deaths over the last 12 months. In December, Gennadiy 
Pavlyuk, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, died in the Kazak city of Almaty. He was 
bound and thrown out of a tall building. Friends and colleagues suspect his 
death had something to do with his activities in Kyrgyzstan, where he was 
involved in setting up an opposition-linked website. 

Almaz Tashiev, a journalist in Nookat in southern Kyrgyzstan, died in hospital 
in July 2009, a week after being badly beaten. Eight police officers are 
alleged to have carried out the assault. On February 25, a judge in Nookat gave 
the two police officers charged with the assault two-year suspended sentences. 

(For more on the security risks facing the media, see Kyrgyzstan: Concern Over 
Journalists’ Safety, Central Asia Human Rights Reporting, February 9, 2010.) 

Such is the frequency of these attacks that the United States embassy and the 
OSCE’s special representative for the media have urged the Kyrgyz authorities 
to act. 

Some journalists in the country believe the overall media environment is worse 
than it was a decade ago, or even five years ago when current president 
Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power in what became known as the “Tulip Revolution”. 

“After independence [1991] we took an enormous step forward in developing the 
media. Now it looks like we’ve taken two steps back,” Bukasheva told IWPR, 
speaking from the United States where she now resides. 

A journalist from the southern city of Osh, who did not want to be identified, 
said, “The level of freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan is extremely low. Since 
the revolution, we have witnessed unprecedented pressure being exerted on media 
and journalists. Many papers have been closed, and journalists have been 
threatened, brutally beaten and killed. I don’t feel safe in this context – I 
can’t even give my full name.” 

Like others in the media interviewed for this report, the Osh-based reporter 
said he had stopped writing about political issues, which might have negative 
repercussions, and had shifted to doing softer social and economic stories. 

“When they killed Alisher Saipov, we got the message. After the murder of 
Gennady Pavlyuk, it’s as clear as can be. Freedom of expression and human life 
is being devalued in this country,” he said. 

Alexander Kulinsky, who heads the Media Complaints Commission, an independent 
self-regulation body for the profession, confirmed that many journalists were 
censoring themselves and avoiding difficult subjects. 

“The energy sector and Islamic religious terrorism are dangerous, even 
forbidden subject. If you write about them, you’ll have lots of problems and 
they might even give you a beating,” said Kulinsky. “So there is more 
self-censorship.” 

The extent to which senior government figures may be complicit in hounding 
independent media is hotly disputed. 

“Journalists who dare to criticise the authorities are in physical danger, said 
Bukasheva. “If the police are powerless to solve high-profile crimes, it means 
someone omnipotent is behind them.” 

Political analyst Marat Kazakpaev commented, “The situation does nothing for 
the image of President Bakiev’s administration. [The authorities] need to 
investigate all cases of attacks on and murders of media workers.” 

A different perspective was offered by Sergei Masaulov, director of the 
presidential Institute for Strategic Analysis, who told IWPR, “All these 
attacks on media figures were launched by opponents of the authorities.” 

Masaulov argued that the administration had “an interest in the country having 
an opposition and a free press”, and insisted that “journalist safety is a very 
important issue” which the president’s office was currently addressing. 

Kyaz Moldokasymov, the editor-in-chief of the state-run newspaper Kyrgyz Tuusu, 
said Kyrgyzstan enjoyed freedom of the press. 

“Journalists here write freely about everything,” he said. As far as safety 
advice for journalists was concerned, he advised “responsibility – every 
journalist must recheck facts a thousand times before publishing them”. 

Moldokasymov pointed to the large amounts of newspapers on the market as 
evidence of the media’s health. 

Kulinsky takes a different view of the proliferation of media, saying the 
avoidance of difficult subject-matter has increased the trend towards 
entertainment. “The Super-Info newspaper has the largest circulation in the 
country, and it has no political content whatsoever,” he said. “That’s an 
indicator of the way journalism is going.” 

Some members of parliament, including from Bakiev’s Ak Jol party, are planning 
changes to the legislation to impose tougher penalties for attacks on media 
workers. 

Galina Kulikova of the Ak Jol majority faction said journalist safety required 
“an immediate solution and extraordinary measures”. 

Isa Omurkulov of the opposition Social Democrats agreed that action was needed, 
“Journalists are the eyes and ears of society, so they should enjoy special 
attention and respect from it. They should be specially protected. And anyone 
who endangers journalists’ security should be punished very severely by the 
law.” 

If the proposed changes go through, Kyrgyzstan will become be the first Central 
Asian state to extend special protections to its journalistic community. 

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym used by a freelance reporter in Kyrgyzstan. 

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights 
Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European 
Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR 
and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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