Kyrgyzstan: Revolution Revisited
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Civil liberties -- Once called Central Asiaís  ''island of democracy,'' Kyrgyzstan is seen to have lost recent ground on civil rights: In 2003, the constitution was modified to grant then President Askar Akayev enormous power; in 2005, a law limiting freedom of assembly was passed. The March 2005 popular uprising raised expectations that Kyrgyzstanís new government will accelerate the country's democratization, but some observers remain unconvinced.

PROMISES:

At his first press conference after the March 24, 2005 uprising, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, as acting president and prime minister, pledged to liberate Kyrgyz media from the restrictions of the past. "Freedom of speech must not be suppressed [as was previously done]. Mass media must be free and independent, and this is what I will aspire to," news services reported Bakiyev as saying.

Bakiyev later promised to transform state-run media outlets into publicly run newspapers, TV and radio channels, and ordered the creation of a committee that would prepare a draft law on the proposed reforms.

On May 4, 2006, President Bakiyev signed a decree that demanded that the government develop a draft law to protect freedom of the press and the rights of the political opposition. "The normal development of our country is impossible without the opposition," Bakiyev said during his 2005 presidential campaign.

RESULTS:

In September 2006, Kyrgyzstan's respect for civil rights came under close scrutiny after allegations that the National Security Service planted heroin on opposition leader and former parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebayev. The parliamentarian was arrested in Warsaw on charges of heroin possession, but later released. In response, Bakiyev fired his brother, Janysh Bakiyev, as deputy director of the Service, and the agency's director resigned.

The media situation has proven similarly controversial. In September 2006, the president vetoed a law passed by parliament to make the state broadcasting company a publicly operated channel, a move earlier advocated by Bakiyev. A presidential spokesman commented that the legislation contradicted current laws and required government-sanctioned financing, but did not elaborate.

Most local observers argue that the number of demonstrations that Kyrgyzstan has seen since March 24, 2005 indicates that freedom of assembly is respected, but journalists often contend that freedom of speech conditions have seen little improvement. Pressure on media outlets by government officials persists, they say, as do threats of libel suits in response to criticism. Ownership of the country's largest circulation newspaper, Vecherny Bishkek, was taken from a son-in-law of ex-President Akayev and returned to a private entrepreneur, but the paper eventually lost its critical voice. A similar scenario occurred at independent TV broadcaster KOORT, which canceled a program critical of the government, and fired its director and some staff journalists after complaints from company owners. A government decision to block regional broadcasts by independent television station NTS was later rescinded.

Other trouble signs are more brutal: In April 2006, Edil Baisalov, an outspoken critic of the Bakiyev administration and Kyrgyzstan's criminal bosses, is attacked outside of his office in Bishkek. The perpetrator has not been found.


Watch a News Broadcast of This Promise:
March 24, 2006 press conference by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Credit: NTS Television

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