Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted unanimously to ban the independent news website fergananews.com (formerly Ferghana.ru).
After weeks of heated debate over the causes of last summer’s ethnic violence, lawmakers cast votes on a resolution including the ban, and blaming Uzbek “separatist” leaders for organizing the clashes. Ninety-five approved; none opposed.
The resolution instructed the Ministry of Culture and Information, the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General's Office “to take steps to block the site Ferghana.ru in the information space of the republic.”
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru – singled out for offering alternatives to the nationalist narrative that Uzbek separatists are to blame for the tragedy – has been blocked in Kyrgyzstan in the past, just before periods of intense political upheaval, such as immediately preceding the ousters of both Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.
Editor Daniil Kislov called on authorities to act based on the law, not “emotional hostility.”
“It would be very sad to see post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan on a par with other states that are Internet enemies,” Kislov said in a story on the website.
In the same article, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Dinara Oshurahunova, said the resolution was a violation of the law, as the legislature has no authority to determine guilt, which is the province of the courts. She also pointed out that the blocking of websites helped precipitate the events that led to Bakiyev’s bloody ouster last year.
“Their desire to block Ferghana once again shows deputies’ lack of understanding of the constitution, human rights and citizens’ freedoms: the right to freedom of expression, right to information, the right to disseminate information. I think that MPs should conduct a legal literacy campaign,” she said.
The resolution comes at a time of sharply rising nationalism and hostility toward international researchers who have found that more Uzbeks died in the violence. Several foreigners have been banned from Kyrgyzstan for suggesting ethnic Kyrgyz carried out the majority of pogroms and may have committed crimes against humanity, which the resolution also dismissed.
Several clauses may calm those fearful of the spreading intolerance, however, such as a demand the government “provide effective legal protection to citizens regardless of their ethnicity.”