BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has called Radio Liberty a threat to his Central Asian nation and accused it of "information terrorism," and a leading opposition activist said Wednesday that the U.S.-funded station's broadcasts were being jammed.
Akayev's comments at a round table with opposition groups and independent media last Friday came after months of political turmoil in impoverished Kyrgyzstan — and while the country is hosting nearly 2,000 U.S. and other foreign troops for the anti-terrorist campaign in nearby Afghanistan
Commenting angrily on media coverage of bloody opposition protests in March, Akayev called Radio Liberty "one of the fundamental threats to democracy in Kyrgyzstan," and said its broadcasts were "tendentious and one-sided." He accused Radio Liberty and unnamed foreign news agencies of "information terrorism directed against Kyrgyzstan."
Radio Liberty was one of the few media in Kyrgyzstan to cover opposition statements about the March protests, in which six demonstrators were killed in clashes with police. Most media only reported the government's side.
A leading opposition party, Ar-Namys, independent newspaper Respublika and several human rights activists have formed a group to defend Radio Liberty in Kyrgyzstan, Topchubek Turgunaliev, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate, told reporters Wednesday.
He said the station's broadcasts were being jammed in some regions, and that the group would start monitoring how often the programs are interrupted. Radio Liberty broadcasts five hours a day in the Kyrgyz language.
The Kyrgyz government has denied any jamming. Radio Liberty's headquarters in Prague had no immediate comment on the jamming or Akayev's statement.
"Only through Radio Liberty do people, especially in distant regions, receive reliable information about events in the country," Turgunaliev said.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a private, nonprofit corporation that receives funding from the U.S. government. It was established in 1949 to spread pro-Western news to countries behind the Iron Curtain and to promote democratic values and institutions.
In May, Kyrgyzstan was named one of the 10 worst places in the world to work as a journalist by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The group said Akayev has been emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops and "used the threat of international terrorism" as an excuse to suppress independent media.
In the early 1990s, Kyrgyzstan was known as an island of democratic and free market reform in a region of authoritarian states, but Akayev increasingly has cracked down on dissent in recent years.
"The president discredited the country and himself in declaring freedom of speech then persecuting Radio Liberty," Turgunaliev said.
Associated Press, July 31, 2002