Kyrgyz Government Freezes Bank Account Of RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk Without Warning

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Kyrgyz authorities have frozen the bank account of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, soon after they blocked its website for two months when the broadcaster refused to take down a video of one of its news programs that reported on clashes at the border with Tajikistan.

Representatives of Demirbank confirmed to Radio Azattyk on October 31 that they had received a notification from the State Committee on National Security (SCNS) to freeze the account. Radio Azattyk has yet to be given an official statement on the move.

LISTEN: Joining host Bruce Pannier to discuss the situation in Kyrgyzstan are Leila Nazgul Seiitbek, a lawyer and chairwoman of the NGO Freedom for Eurasia, and Saniia Toktogazieva, a constitutional lawyer and associate professor teaching international law at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

The Kyrgyz government made the decision to block the Radio Azattyk website on October 26 after RFE/RL refused to take down the video, produced by Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. Officials claimed the segment “predominantly” took the position of the Tajik side.

The decision was based on the Law on Protection from False Information, a piece of legislation that drew widespread criticism when adopted in August last year.

RFE/RL has rejected the accusation, with President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly saying the company “takes [its] commitment to balanced reporting seriously” and that after a review of the content in question, “no violation of our standards” was found. RFE is appealing the decision.

In solidarity with RFE/RL, independent Kyrgyz media outlets on October 28 posted a black screen on their webpages for several hours with the caption “No news today. Media under pressure in Kyrgyzstan” and also refused to cover news stories about the government the whole day.

The Kyrgyz government’s decision has also been criticized by some Kyrgyz lawmakers and rights activists who have called for the government to repeal it.

Earlier this month threats were made against RFE/RL journalists during a demonstration in Bishkek at the office of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.

Most of the participants of the action covered their faces, avoided the camera, and refused to answer questions about their demands.

Ilimbek Israilov, the organizer of the demonstration, threatened to spray gasoline on RFE/RL reporters and use force against them.

Israilov is known for his involvement in the organization of numerous rallies to support the former deputy chief of the Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov.

In 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.