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Kyrgyz Opposition Politician Babanov Blasts 'Seizure' Of His TV Channel

Kyrgyz opposition politician Omurbek Babanov (file photo)
Kyrgyz opposition politician Omurbek Babanov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz opposition politician and former presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov has called efforts to impound the property of his television channel in Bishkek a "seizure by raid."

Babanov wrote on Facebook on December 20 that the steps taken against NTS, the largest private TV station in Kyrgyzstan, were "unimaginable."

Court officers and police raided NTS on December 19, arriving at the station with a court ruling they said allowed them to impound its property.

"The NTS television channel is being seized," Babanov wrote. He suggested that those behind the raid were making illegal use of the courts.

"Are legal documents now just scraps of paper?" he wrote. "Is justice nothing, and is the main goal to shut down or take over a private television channel?"

Babanov suggested that those behind the raid "represent the interests" of Maksim Bakiev -- a son of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was ousted by protests and fled the country in 2010. Both face criminal charges in Kyrgyzstan and live abroad.

NTS lawyer Amantur Abdrakhmanov told RFE/RL on December 20 that the court's December 19 decision to impound the television channel's property was based on a lawsuit filed by a company called Grexton Capital LTD.

A Kyrgyz Justice Ministry document in a database compiled by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) indicates that a company with a similar name, Grexton Trade Company, was established in Bishkek in October 2006 by the Grexton Investment Group and is headed by Sergei Kostyrin.

Kostyrin is an associate of Maksim Bakiev.

Babanov is a businessman who finished second in the October 15 presidential election but left the country after an investigation was launched into charges that he incited ethnic hatred while campaigning for the election.

The whereabouts of Babanov, who denies the allegations and also lives abroad, are not known.

The raid on NTS is likely to spark new concerns about media freedom under President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the ruling party candidate who won the election with backing from outgoing leader Almazbek Atambaev and took office on November 24.

NTS's radio station, Sanjyra, went off the air in November after the authorities refused to extend its license.

The station remains off air, but company officials launched a new Internet TV channel called Jalbyrak (A Leaf), which broadcasts online.

The actions against NTS come four months after a court ordered privately-owned digital TV channel Sentyabr (September) to stop operations, citing what it said was "extremist" content.

Sentyabr was known for its criticism of Atambaev.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service is a contributor to the NTS channel and other independent media in Kyrgyzstan.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service