Dear President Akaev,
We write to express our deep concern regarding the April 24 attack on Chingiz Sydykov, the 21-year-old son of Zamira Sydykova, a former political prisoner and Respublica’s editor-in-chief. We ask that you use your good offices to ensure that the police investigation into the assault is thorough and impartial, and results in the prosecution of the assailants in accordance with the law. We also request that you support safe working conditions for journalists and their families in Kyrgyzstan.
As you know, Human Rights Watch is an international non-government organization that investigates and reports on human rights conditions in more than seventy countries worldwide. We have monitored and reported on human rights conditions in Central Asia since the early 1990s and maintain offices in Tashkent and Moscow.
According to Zamira Sydykova, on April 24 at 9:30 p.m. four unidentified men assaulted Chingiz Sydykov near a local Bishkek café “Edem,” and then fled the scene. The attackers made no demands and no attempts to rob him. Sydykov sustained a concussion and serious injuries to his body. He remains hospitalized and is expected to require a protracted recovery period. On April 28, Kyrgyz law enforcement authorities took Sydykov’s testimony and launched an investigation into the attack.
Zamira Sydykova believes that the assault on her son was in retaliation for a recent series of four articles, published in Respublica, criticizing the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kyrgyzstan.
This fear is well-founded in light of the record of attacks on journalists in Kyrgyzstan in recent years, and on Sydykov in particular. As reported by The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, seven years ago 14-year-old Chingiz Sydykov was the victim of a similar suspicious attack by unknown assailants. For more than a decade, the government’s campaign to silence Respublica has focused on Sydykova herself. In 1997, Sydykova was charged in connection with reporting on rampant corruption in a government gold-mining company. Sydykova was convicted and sent to a labor camp. She was released after serving one month and was banned from working in journalism for 18 months. In 1995 Sydykova was charged with slander, after publishing information about President Akaev’s foreign bank accounts. As a result, she was banned from her work in journalism.
The attack on Sydykov is not the first incident of its kind against a child of a critical editor. On January 27, 2002 two unidentified assailants attacked Aleksandra Chernik, a journalist and the daughter of Rina Prizhivoit—a forthright journalist and chief political editor of the Bishkek-based newspaper, Moia Stolitsa. The attackers beat her with a police baton and took her bag containing her hand-held tape-recorder before fleeing. She sustained a serious head trauma and was hospitalized. Rina Prizhivoit believes Kyrgyz authorities were behind the attack on her daughter in retaliation for Prizhivoit’s several articles, critical of government officials. More than two years after the officials opened an investigation, police have failed to charge anyone with the attack on Chernik.
The assaults on Chingiz Sydykov and Aleksandra Chernik took place in an environment of state hostility toward independent media. Kyrgyz government officials have made use of criminal libel laws and other politically motivated criminal charges to punish journalists for criticism of government policies or officials. In several cases these have resulted in the permanent closure of independent media outlets. Harassment of journalists also continues.
We urge you to put a stop to undue government pressure on Kyrgyzstan’s independent media outlets, to ensure that journalists can work in safety, and to reform criminal libel and civil defamation laws, which are too often exploited for political ends. We look forward to learning of any progress that has been made in the investigation into the attack on Chingiz Sydykov.
Thank you in advance for your attention to the concerns raised in this letter.
Acting Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division