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Radio Silence Marks the Tulip Revolution's Anniversary

Protesters gather in front of the OSCE's Bishkek office demanding the resumption of Radio Azattyk broadcasts, 17 March, 2010
Protesters gather in front of the OSCE's Bishkek office demanding the resumption of Radio Azattyk broadcasts, 17 March, 2010
As Kyrgyzstan prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of the so-called Tulip revolution, the radio and television programs of Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz language service, are almost entirely off the air.

Directors of local affiliates in the capital city Bishkek and elsewhere told RFE/RL that they were pressured by local authorities with loss of their licenses if they continued to broadcast Azattyk’s programs.

In response to threats, Azattyk’s Bishkek television affiliate, "Echo of Manas," suspended the service’s widely viewed "Inconvenient Questions" and "Azattyk Plus" programs on March 10. Jalal-Abat television stopped carrying the programs the same day, and radio affiliates in Bishkek and the northern city of Naryn dropped scheduled broadcasts.

The pattern continued this week, as Almaz-Osh, a radio affiliate in the southwestern city of Osh, suspended Azattyk’s evening program on March 17. That night, Keremet, a television affiliate in the same city, dropped the “Inconvenient Questions” debate show. In both of these cases, the affiliates’ managers report being told by local officials that they would have difficulties renewing their licenses if the programs continued to air.

Azattyk and other independent information websites, including, bely parus and, also experienced problems with access to their sites throughout the week.

The pressure comes in the midst of rallies and demonstrations that have confronted the government of President Bakiev with public anger and social, economic and political demands. It also coincides with reports in the media about business activities and associates of Maksim Bakiev, the President’s son.

The Kyrgyz government has challenged Azattyk before, most notably in 2008 when it suspended its broadcast contract with the state-controlled radio and TV company, UTRK. At the time, UTRK head Melis Eshimkanov said the programs are "too negative and too critical" of the government. He demanded that Azattyk submit its programs for prior approval saying, "Unless we can hear the programs in advance, we cannot have them on the air."

Azattyk’s recent troubles have been the subject of appeals by local NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and international media watchdog groups. See here, here, and here.