WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 605, March 10, 2010 UZBEKISTANS 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 states hostility to small-time importers. By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova and Beksultan Sadyrkulov in Bishkek TAJIKISTAN: MORE PARTIES DONT 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. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** UZBEKISTANS 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 ministrys 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 capitals 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 IWPRs 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 didnt 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. Theyre skilled at disguising their views, but they represent a threat to the country, and its 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 IWPRs 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 states 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 Uzbekistans highly controlled economy. They believe Uzbekistan is planning to construct its own, similar trading post. Economic crisis has exacerbated Uzbekistans shortage of foreign currency as demand for countrys 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 havent 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 Kyrgyzstans role as a transit hub. Kyrgyzstans 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 Uzbekistans 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. Thats 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 DONT 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 Tajikistans 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 Peoples 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 IRPs 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 Rahmons 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 dont 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 OSCEs 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 CCERs 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 partys own observers did not identify irregularities. Safarov said his partys 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 Kurultays membership should reflect Kyrgyzstans 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 Peoples 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 presidents 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 presidents 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 Kurultays status and functions differ from the role of the countrys 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 Kyrgyzstans numerous pressing economic problems. However, the net result appears to be more power concentrated in the presidents 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 presidents 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 assemblys work his conduct of kurultai affairs after the election process is over. He will play a pivotal role in deciding the Kurultais 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 Bakievs 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 its is a step backwards; were 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 chambers 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 Sayasats 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 OSCEs 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  we took an enormous step forward in developing the media. Now it looks like weve 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 dont feel safe in this context I cant 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, its 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, youll 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 Bakievs 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 presidents 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 medias 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. Thats an indicator of the way journalism is going. Some members of parliament, including from Bakievs 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 IWPRs 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. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The service is published online in English and Russian. The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR. REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. 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