Security Services sue independent journalist

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned after learning that the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) of Kyrgyzstan has sued an independent journalist based in Osh, Shokhrukh Saipov, following an article he published with the Ferghana News Agency in May 2014.

The GKNB is demanding one million Kyrgyz Soms, or over 19,000 USD, in damages from Saipov. The reason for the claim is an article in which an unnamed source is quoted as saying that the security services in Osh have pressured conservative Muslims in the city for up to 500 USD under threats of opening criminal cases against them for religious extremism.

The court hearing in the case is set for Thursday 28 August, at 16:40 at the Osh City Court.

Shokhrukh Saipov is the younger brother of well-known journalist Alisher Saipov, who was shot and killed outside his office in Osh in October 2007. The murder remains unsolved.

The NHC is concerned that the libel suit could mark the beginning of a return to practices associated with the period preceding the April 2010 revolution in Kyrgyzstan, when harassment and libel suits against journalists were commonplace. In the time since, Kyrgyzstan’s media freedom record has improved markedly, setting it apart from practices in several neighboring Central Asian states.

To the knowledge of the NHC, this is the first time since the 2010 change of government that the security services have sought compensation from journalists with basis in Article 18 of the Civil Law, which relates to discretization of a person’s “honor, dignity or professional reputation”. In a letters to the Prosecutor General and the Osh City Court on 20-21 June 2014, the GKNB states that the article in question is unfounded, not supported by specific facts, and may harm the security services’ reputation and level of trust in the local community.

– The implications of this move by the security services go beyond this particular case, said Ivar Dale, Regional Representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in Central Asia. – The allegations presented in the article are not those of Mr. Saipov personally, but of one of his interviewees. In either case, the GKNB has several options available to them if they wish to refute these claims, including a written statement to the news outlet where the article first appeared. Going after journalists in this manner is likely to cause greater harm to their reputation than this article may have done in the first place, he continued.

One of the methods of the Bakiev government when faced with criticism, whether founded or unfounded, was to claim compensation in the shape of crippling amounts from independent news outlets. – The current government has rightly been praised for ending this practice, and for facilitating an open public discussion in Kyrgyzstan, said Dale. – We believe this course is the right one for Kyrgyzstan also in the future.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee would also take this opportunity to encourage the security services to continue their investigation into the 2007 assassination of Shorukh Saipov’s brother, journalist Alisher Saipov, and of local police authorities into the recent attack on one of Saipov’s former colleagues, Davran Nasipkhanov, who was beaten by unknown persons outside his office on 17 August this year.