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Kyrgyzstan Urged To Protect Media Pluralism After Opposition TV's Closure

14 August 2019
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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Kyrgyz authorities to allow the opposition Aprel (April) television channel to resume broadcasting, calling its closure last week a violation of press freedom.

Aprel's closure coincided with the arrest of its owner, former President Almazbek Atambaev, who surrendered to security forces on August 8 following a deadly two-day standoff at his residence near Bishkek.

The following day, armed special forces stormed Aprel's headquarters in the capital, evicted the station's employees, and sealed the entrance.

The station has since continued broadcasting on the Internet. Its director, Dmitriy Lozhnikov, was questioned for five hours by investigators on August 13.

The authorities claim that Aprel's closure was just one of a series of measures taken to freeze Atambaev's assets as part of an investigation into alleged corruption.

But Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement on August 13 that the probe "cannot be used to justify a violation of press freedom of this kind, especially as Aprel TV is not accused of breaking the law."

Bihr urged the authorities to "rescind this disproportionate measure and to protect media pluralism."

On April 10, 10 Kyrgyz organizations, media outlets, and experts issued a joint statement calling the decision to close Aprel a “fatal mistake.”

Media pluralism in Kyrgyzstan "has always distinguished this country from its neighbors and has given it a higher ranking in international indexes than the rest of Central Asia," it said.

Kyrgyzstan ranks 83rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Atambaev, who led the Central Asian republic from 2011 to 2017, initially faced corruption allegations that surfaced as part of a power struggle with his handpicked successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Following Atambaev’s arrest last week, new charges were announced against him, including using violence against representatives of the authorities, organizing mass unrest, and masterminding a murder attempt.

Clashes between police and Atambaev supporters who went to defend his home resulted in the death of one special forces officer and injuries to more than 170 others, officials said.

The former president has dismissed the accusations against him as politically motivated.