RFE/RL Requests Official Explanation From Kyrgyz Bank Regarding Frozen Account

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BISHKEK — RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, has asked a bank in Bishkek to explain its move to freeze RFE/RL’s account without warning.

Representatives of Demirbank on October 31 informed Radio Azattyk that they had received a notification from the State Committee on National Security to freeze the account. The move came just after Kyrgyz authorities blocked Radio Azattyk’s websites 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.

RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly condemned the move to freeze Radio Azattyk’s bank account in a statement on November 1.

“This escalation by Kyrgyz authorities appears to violate Kyrgyz law. We will fight this attempt to silence our journalists,” Fly said. “Radio Azattyk is a trusted source of news and should be allowed to continue to operate unimpeded.”

According to the law on bank and banking activities in Kyrgyzstan, banks can freeze accounts only after a court decision, and an official request from law enforcement cannot lead to the freezing of bank accounts.

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.

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 refused to cover news stories about the government for 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.