A coalition of 29 press freedom organizations from around the world has called on Kyrgyz authorities to drop defamation lawsuits and to end the practice of using "harsh penalties" to punish critical media outlets and reporters.
"While Kyrgyzstan has generally been a rare positive example in a region where autocracy has been the rule, recent developments threaten to send the country down a similarly repressive path,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, and other media watchdogs in a joint letter posted on March 13 on the website of IFEX, a network of organizations working to promote and defend freedom of expression and information worldwide.
The 29 media watchdogs said they were "alarmed at the use of defamation lawsuits to levy disproportionate fines, travel bans and other harsh penalties against journalists and media outlets accused of insulting the president."
The alliance urged lawmakers to amend the current Law On Guarantees for the Activity of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, which CPJ said in a separate statement serves as the basis "of defamation cases filed against journalists."
The alliance also called on the Kyrgyz parliament to reject proposed amendments to the Civil Code, saying it "could create further justification for punishing journalists and others on broad and legally ambiguous grounds for exercising their right to free expression.”
The letter cited the case of the now-defunct independent news website Zanoza.kg and its founders, who were found guilty of insulting the then-President Almazbek Atambaev and fined 27 million som ($338,000) in 2017.
"The attendant proceedings were marred by significant procedural irregularities, circumvention of the pretrial dispute mechanism, and infringement of the defendants' rights to an adversarial defense," the letter read.
It said that "such harassment of journalists and the media has continued into 2018."
Freelance journalist Elnura Alkanova was charged in February with seeking and disclosing confidential commercial information following the publication late last year of an investigative report about the sale of government property in the capital, Bishkek.