The Russian-language news service Ferghana News is pressing ahead with two lawsuits seeking to overturn a ban imposed earlier this year by authorities in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyz Internet service providers have blocked Moscow-based, Ferghana News (formerly Ferghana.ru), a leading independent news source in Central Asia, since late February, according to managing editor Daniil Kislov. A 2011 parliamentary resolution, adopted after an investigation into the new website’s coverage of the 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, reportedly served as the basis for the ban. Media watchdogs, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, have assailed the action against Ferghana news, contending that it amounted to retaliation for what Kyrgyz officials deemed “negative” coverage of the Osh events.
One lawsuit filed by Ferghana News and currently pending in a Kyrgyz court seeks to overturn the ban, arguing that only a court order, not a parliamentary resolution, can legitimize pulling the plug on a mass media outlet. A second suit, filed on behalf of a Kyrgyz citizen, pursues a broader aim, arguing that such a ban violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights, according to Kislov.
Kyrgyzstan is far from alone in Central Asia in blocking Ferghana.ru, but it is the only state in the region “where it is possible to file such a suit,” said Kislov. He made the comments during an Open Forum, held November 19 at the Open Society Foundations in New York. [Editor’s Note: EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations].
While citizens in Kyrgyzstan enjoy a greater degree of individual liberty than in neighboring Central Asian states, Kislov said he was realistic about the odds of Ferghana News winning its cases, given the overall lack of judicial independence in the region. “We’re not counting on the court to rule in our favor,” he said.
Even though it is blocked in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia, Kislov maintained that his site has no difficulty distributing its content via social networking platforms, news aggregators and email. “Blocking [our site] is good,” he said. “The government is giving us publicity.”
Kislov and his co-panelist at the Open Forum, Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Central Asian research associate, painted a bleak picture of media conditions in the region. ”Turkmenistan is Central Asia’s North Korea,” Suleymanov said. “The press freedom climate is pretty much in a deep freeze.”