The editor of a newspaper in Kyrgyzstan was assaulted outside his home last week in an ominous throwback to the kind of attacks that became commonplace under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Turat Akimov, who edits the newspaper Dengi i Vlast, said he was unable to identify his assailant.
“A tall, athletic man in a baseball cap was hiding behind the fence. He hit me twice with an iron rod. Once on my head and then my hand. After I hit him back, he dropped the rod and fled,” Akimov told Russian news agency Sputnik, recalling the attack in Bishkek on February 19.
The reporter said he required medical treatment after the assault and went to the hospital to have his arm put in plaster and stitches in a head wound.
Akimov explicitly identifies as an opposition journalist and said that he believes the attack was motivated by his reporting.
It should be noted, however, that his newspaper no longer has its own website, is extremely low profile and appears to specialize primarily in editorializing and loosely researched muck-raking.
In a 2014 interview to Kyrgyz language newspaper Maidan.kg, Akimov explains how he was subjected to a gagging order to prevent him publishing extracts from a book claiming that 300 inmates died during the tenure of a director of prisons under President Askar Akayev, who was overthrown in 2005. In the book, it is claimed the same official sold the bodies of dead inmates to German anatomist Gunther Von Hagens, who achieved notoriety in the 1990s with his public exhibitions of human remains preserved in plastic.
President Almazbek Atambaev reacted swiftly to the attack on Akimov and pledged to personally monitor investigations, news website Zanoza.kg reported.
Kyrgyzstan enjoys a relatively free media compared with the prevalently authoritarian climate seen elsewhere in the region.
Bakiyev’s bloody overthrow in 2010 followed a wave of attacks on prominent journalists known for their critical stance. One reporter, Gennadiy Pavlyuk, was murdered in December 2009 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Earlier that year, another opposition journalist, Syrgak Abdyldaev, was savagely beaten in Bishkek and was later granted asylum in Sweden. Both men have subsequently been identified as victims of government-sanctioned repression.
Although attacks on reporters became less common after the change in rule, there are nonetheless continued cases of assaults. Motivations are not always easy to detect, but can range from personal enmity to ethnic tensions.
In August 2011, Osh-based reporter Shokhrukh Saipov, an ethnic Uzbek, was attacked while working for the website UZpress.kg, which focused on the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010. Shokhrukh is the younger brother of Alisher Saipov, a reporter murdered outside his Osh offices in 2007 in a killing widely believed to be the work of Uzbek security services.