Freedom of Speech: The law provides for freedom of speech and press. In practice individuals generally could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal. Following the April 2010 change of government, the government took steps toward ensuring those rights were respected.
Freedom of Press: After the June 2010 violence, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that two ethnic-Uzbek Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists in Osh received threats that forced them to stop working and leave the region temporarily. They had produced eyewitness reports of the ethnic unrest that differed from the reports produced by most domestic media outlets.
There were 40 to 50 regularly printed newspapers and magazines, 12 to 15 of which were state-owned with varying degrees of independence. The independent printing press run by the nongovernmental Media Support Center was the leading newspaper publisher in the country. More than 50 state-owned and private television and radio stations operated in the country, with two television stations, both state-owned, broadcasting nationwide. Government newspaper, television, and radio outlets continued to receive state subsidies.
Violence and Harassment: At least eight journalists were attacked or threatened during the year. Although authorities opened investigations into some of the incidents, none were solved by year’s end. In certain cases, even though some perpetrators’ identities were known, the government did not prosecute the suspects. Some threats against journalists were anonymous; others were made by known figures such as politicians and government officials. Journalists were threatened for reporting on sensitive topics such as interethnic relations, the June 2010 events, and the rise of nationalism in the country. Others were threatened for reporting critically on public figures. Many journalists, even those not assaulted or threatened, admitted to self-censoring their reporting due to fear of being targeted.
The CPJ and other news outlets reported that on August 10, Shakrukh Saipov, an independent, ethnic Uzbek journalist, was abducted from the Osh airport, beaten, and left unconscious on a street in the village of Aravan, 17 miles from Osh. Saipov, who publishes an independent news Web site in Russian, Uzbek, and English, sustained a concussion, partial memory loss, several broken teeth, and a broken nose. The attackers did not steal any of his valuables. At year’s end the police reported no progress in investigating the case.
On May 11, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets reported that several assailants attacked and beat Samat Asipov, a journalist who covered parliament for Channel 5. Asipov was hospitalized for his injuries. The attackers did not steal his valuables. Although the police opened an investigation, they identified no suspects, and no one was prosecuted for the crime.
During the year authorities prosecuted Khalil Khudaiberdiyev, owner and director of Osh TV, and Dzhavlon Mirzkhodzhayev, owner of Mezon TV and several newspapers, along with four other exiled ethnic Uzbek citizens of Kyrgyzstan, including Khadyrzhan Batyrov (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). Khudaiberdiyev and Mirkhodzayev were specifically targeted because their TV stations broadcasted a May 2010 protest rally in Jalalabad. Although rally organizers denounced violence, Khudaiberdiyev, Mirzkhodzhayev, and the others were charged with participating in mass disorder, calls for separatism, and illegal creation of an armed group, among other charges. The CPJ called the charges fabricated. On October 28, both men were convicted and sentenced in absentia to prison terms of 14 years (Mirzkhodzhayev) and 20 years (Khudaiberdiyev), as well as state seizure of property.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2008 law, yet to be fully implemented, placed significant restrictions on television and radio broadcast companies and established Kyrgyz-language and local content requirements. Human rights activists asserted that the law is unconstitutional because it conflicts with constitutional rights to freedom of speech and access to information.
Multiple anonymous sources alleged that some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. Sources also reported that some news outlets received “requests” from offices of the government to report in a particular way or to ignore news stories.
Libel Laws/National Security: Under the new constitution, libel is no longer a criminal offense. On July 11, President Otunbayeva signed legislation passed by parliament to implement that provision.
From September 25 until October 30--the period of the presidential election campaign--the national cable television provider blocked international news channels CNN and BBC. All of the Russian news channels were delayed, and later broadcasts removed stories referring to Kyrgyzstan. It was reported that the Russian embassy provided the technology to delay and edit the Russian broadcasts. These measures were taken in accordance with the new law on elections that sought to limit foreign media influence in the campaign.
Publishing Restrictions: The Ministry of Justice requires all media to register and receive ministry approval in order to operate. The registration process nominally takes one month but in practice often took much longer. It included checks on the background of each media outlet’s owner and the source of financing, including financing by international donor organizations.
Foreign media generally operated freely. The law prohibits foreign ownership of domestic media; however, there was a small degree of foreign ownership of media through local partners. Russian-language television stations dominated coverage and local ratings. A number of Russia-based media outlets operated freely in the country; the government treated them as domestic media. Several new broadcast licenses were issued in late 2010 and 2011, but the awards process remained cumbersome in that two licenses were required, one for content and one for broadcast spectrum. The process also lacked transparency.
All independent Uzbek-language media in the south stopped operating after the June 2010 violence, and aside from extremely limited Uzbek language content in Kyrgyz language outlets and publications, they did not resume during the year. In some cases there were reports that media outlets stopped operating because of local government pressure.
During the year there were no developments in the 2010 case of Ulugbek Abdusalamov, editor of the Uzbek-language newspaper Didor, charged with “organizing and participating in mass disorder,” “inciting ethnic hatred,” and “separatist activities aimed at destroying the territorial integrity of the state.” According to human rights organizations, Abdusalamov had heart problems that may have resulted from beatings in prison, and his trial was postponed. At the end of 2010, Abdusalamov’s attorney reported that his client and his family were missing and their whereabouts were unknown.