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British AFP Journalist Says Banned From Kyrgyzstan

A British journalist working for the French news agency AFP says he has been denied entry to Kyrgyzstan upon arrival and told he was banned from the ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia.

Chris Rickleton, 32, told RFE/RL in a December 9 telephone interview that he was stopped at the border earlier that morning after arriving at Manas airport outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.

Rickleton, who has worked as Central Asia correspondent for AFP since 2015, said he was informed by border guards that he had been hit with an entry ban but that they did not know the reason for the restriction.

“They actually asked me what the reason for the entry ban was, and I told them that I didn’t know,” he told RFE/RL.

He said it was the first difficulty he had faced entering Kyrgyzstan since the country’s October 15 presidential election won by Sooronbai Jeenbekov, outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev’s favorite in the ballot.

Rickleton told RFE/RL that he believes the ban is linked to Kyrgyz security services, with whom he said he had had “issues” with in the past.

He declined to go into details about his interaction with Kyrgyz security services but said he had last entered the country successfully in early October.

Rickleton, who said he was speaking from a departure hall at Manas airport while waiting for an outbound flight, said he has unsuccessfully tried to obtain official accreditation as an AFP journalist with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry.

In a December 9 Facebook post, Rickleton said he has a long-term accreditation with the Foreign Ministry in neighboring Kazakhstan. He added that he has lived “consistently in Kyrgyzstan for eight years” and that his wife and daughter are Kyrgyz citizens currently based in Bishkek.

Rickleton told RFE/RL that he had been attempting to enter Kyrgyzstan under the country's visa-waiver system for citizens of Britain and other countries for stays up to 60 days.

Kyrgyz officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Kyrgyz newssite cited a spokesman for the Kyrgyz State Committee for National security, Rakhat Sulaimanov, as saying that his committee is not responsible for deportations and referring questions on the matter to the Foreign Ministry.

The journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders last month noted “the pluralism of Kyrgyz media,” calling it an “exception” in Central Asia.

But the group's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, said that while the situation in Kyrgyzstan is “better” than elsewhere in the region, media outlets there face increasing challenges, including costly defamation lawsuits and self-censorship on sensitive issues.

AFP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on December 9.