Kyrgyzstan Government Determined to Get Rid of Opposition Press

High-ranking officials showered a popular newspaper of Kyrgyzstan with lawsuits

The Leninsky district court of Kyrgyztan capital Bishkek continues considering a series of lawsuits that were filed against the opposition newspaper Moya Stolitsa (My Capital). Internal Affairs Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Bakirdin Subanbekov filed another lawsuit against the mentioned newspaper, claiming that one of its articles contained slanderous information against his ministry. The minister evaluated the damage in the sum of over ten thousand dollars. The author of the article, Zamir Osorov, asserts that the material was written on the base of the reliable and trustworthy information. The claimant does not deny that either, the lawsuit was filed to dispute not the facts, but the correspondent’s opinions and judgements.

As it turned out, the internal minister of Kyrgyzstan (the police general) was not an official of the highest rank, who filed a lawsuit against the newspaper Moya Stolitsa. The journalists of this newspaper managed to “hurt” almost the entire government of the republic. They did not have mercy even upon the prime minister. However, the head of the Kyrgyzstan government claimed a compensation, which was almost seven times as large in comparison with the one of the internal affairs minister. Thirteen lawsuits have been filed against the newspaper in total. Two more lawsuits are being prepared currently. Each of the suits claims huge compensations – from one thousand to a 100 thousand American dollars. Citizen Toktaliyev evaluated his claim in the sum of five million soms (som is the national currency of Kyrgyzstan). “A common businessman,” as he described himself, did not like the fact that the newspaper “insulted” the whole Kyrgyz nation. This was the reason of the sum of his claim – one som for each Kyrgyz citizen. As Toktaliyev stated in the claim, the newspaper cast doubts on the proclamation of the Kyrgyz state system organization as the oldest organization in world history. Kyrgyzstan state officials stated that the state system organization of the republic existed for more than two thousand years ago. The newspaper’s journalist believed that such a fundamental discovery should be confirmed with some scientific facts and documents.

However, the journalists of the newspaper are not really concerned about that scientific dispute. Such a large number of lawsuits against the newspaper might lead to its complete bankruptcy. Alexander Kim, the editor-in-chief of Moya Stolitsa, believes that the Kyrgyzstan government decided to get rid of his journalists. “When the prime minister and many other ministers keep filing lawsuits one after another, it would be reasonable to assume that they were ordered to do so. By the way, criminal proceedings against our newspaper started in December of the past year, when a series of important international events was over in the republic. If the proceedings had started earlier, sponsors and investors might have delayed their loans and grants for the country. Foreign guests acknowledged Kyrgyzstan a democratic state, so it was a good time to show some pressure on journalists,” Alexander Kim said.

The daily newspaper of Moya Stolitsa was founded in May of 2001 by the journalists of the most important Kyrgyz newspaper Evening Bishkek. They were forced to quit working there, when the newspaper’s owner was substituted by means of a semi-criminal way. The newspaper became owned by the people, who often were the subjects of its harsh criticism. The operation started with the re-registration of Kyrgyz media, which was announced by the Justice Ministry in May of 2001. Sixteen newspapers failed to succeed in this process. The Moya Stolitsa was one of them. However, persistent journalists overcame that barrier, and the new newspaper was born on November 1, 2001. The year 2002 was all about the struggle with the state enterprise Uchkun, which repeatedly refused to print the obstinate newspaper. In addition to that, the journalists had to participate in disputes too. The newspaper lost six lawsuits over six months of 2002. The awards were not really tough, so the newspaper managed to pay relatively small fines. Then, the newspaper was showered with lawsuits from high-ranking officials. As a result of that action, there are ten cases pending against the newspaper. Some of its journalists will have to participate in three trials at once. If the newspaper loses at least a half of those proceedings, which is most likely to happen, the “newspaper of the opposition” will have to be sold at auction. In other words, it will be closed in a formally legal way. If this happens, there might not be anyone else to criticize the powers that be.

CNN graphic

Yury Razgulayev

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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Author`s name Olga Savka