This week I had expected to be writing about a defamation case brought by Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee against an independent journalist in Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan. To my surprise, the committee withdrew its complaint, and the court dismissed the case yesterday.
In addition, after a violent attack on another journalist in Osh on August 17 – and what felt like a very long wait – local authorities informed the journalist today that they had opened an official investigation into the case.
Back-to-back, two “wins” for freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan.
The defamation suit stemmed from a May 31 article by Shohrukh Saipov, published by Ferghana.ru, a prominent Central Asia news website, about the recruitment of Kyrgyzstan nationals to fight in Syria. Saipov quoted an unnamed person describing how “security services” detain religious men in Osh and extort up to US$500 from them in exchange for their release.
The National Security Committee sued Saipov, denying they took any money and claiming that the article “discredited the honor, dignity and professional reputation of the Kyrgyz Republic’s national security bodies.”
On August 26, the editor-in-chief of Ferghana.ru sent the head of the Osh section of the National Security Committee a letter expressing regret that the article had caused offense, offered to publish a response from the security agency, and did. The security agency then filed a motion to dismiss the case.
As for Davron Nasipkhanov, the journalist in Osh who was attacked outside his home by people he didn’t recognize, a formal investigation has been launched. Authorities should be sure to examine all possible motives for the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. Nasipkhanov told Human Rights Watch that his assailants called him “sart,” a derogatory term for Uzbek, and said that “sarts” needed to be killed. Nasipkhanov hosts an Uzbek language television program in Osh.
This isn’t the end of the story of course. Ever since ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, there have been many cases of unfair and questionable actions by courts, police, and other officials, and many attacks – and cases of torture– in which the authorities did not investigate.
But today, I was happy to put away my news release on these particular freedom of expression threats. Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee did not pursue its defamation lawsuit and authorities took the first step of opening an investigation into the attack on Nasipkhanov. Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend.