Authorities in Bishkek have blocked the independent Russian-language news site Fergananews.com, eight months after a controversial parliament resolution saying the site should not be accessible to readers in Kyrgyzstan. It is unclear why the decision took so long to implement.
Kyrgyzstan’s legislature voted unanimously to block the Moscow-based website for perceived bias last June, around the one-year anniversary of interethnic bloodshed between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the country’s south. The decision came at a time when many ethnic Kyrgyz felt unfairly demonized by the international community, while politicians parlayed the sentiment into nationalist chest thumping. According to the parliamentary resolution, Fergananews (previously Ferghana.ru), which covered the 2010 ethnic violence and its aftermath in exhaustive and critical detail, “ignites ethnic hatred.”
Press-freedom activists have condemned the move, with Reporters Without Borders calling it “absurd and outrageous.”
“Blocking a news website that is as professional and impartial as Fergana’s is a major step backwards for a country that aspires to be ‘Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy,’” the Paris-based watchdog said in a statement on February 21.
According to Fergananews, Kyrgyz Telecom, Kyrgyzstan’s largest Internet service provider, blocked the site after a request from the State Agency for Communications earlier this month. Other ISPs have not yet followed, so the site is still available for some users.
In recent weeks Bishkek has used legislation against “inciting ethnic, racial, religious hatred” to bring charges against an ethnic Russian journalist who highlighted rising nationalism and lamented the status of the ethnic Russian minority in the former Soviet republic.
Yet the rules seem not to be applied across the board. Since the ethnic violence, some Kyrgyz-language newspapers have, with relative impunity, published racist invective, calling for Uzbeks to leave and blaming Jews for Kyrgyzstan’s woes. Earlier this month, a prominent parliamentarian declared that only “purebred Kyrgyz” should hold the highest offices in the land.
As a result of the selective prosecutions, the 30 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population comprising minorities is left with fewer ways to be heard or to access relevant news and information.
On February 21, the Committee to Protect Journalists said “rising violence, censorship, and politically motivated prosecutions against the media,” especially government attempts to silence Uzbek-language news, tarnish any other perceived improvement in freedoms.