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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[18.06.23] Silenced Kyrgyz Editor Condemns "General Pressure On Journalists"

Excerpts From the Interview With Alexander Kim:
The June 13 closure of a Kyrgyz opposition newspaper, Moya Stolitsa, hampered Kyrgyzstan's efforts to promote itself as a democracy. The newspaper's forced ending marked both the decline of free speech and the erosion of independence in the Kyrgyz mass media.
According to Alexander Kim, the paper's editor-in-chief, the government of President Askar Akayev forced the newspaper to close by filing libel suits for allegedly defaming the honor of various governmental officials and institutions. Moya Stolitsa faced fines of up to $95,000 in connection with numerous libel cases. The newspaper lacked the financial resources to pay the fines, Kim explained, and was left with no alternative but to cease operations. The paper's staff is now working with Advokat, a much smaller publication.
"We understand that Moya Stolitsa has gained a place in the minds of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan never gained by any other newspaper. However, we have to give it up to avoid being declared bankrupt by the special administration," a Moya Stolitsa commentary said in its last issue. "We lost all court battles. We lost in the circumstances of today's Kyrgyzstan."
The newspaper featured aggressive investigative reporting of alleged corruption. An April 28 article, for example, focused on a joint report of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development that characterized Kyrgyzstan as one of the most corrupt countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Polls revealed that the majority of Kyrgyzstan's population believes corruption is the main obstacle to the country's democratic and economic development.
Investigative reports of top-level government corruption, according to Kim, prompted officials to take retaliatory action against Moya Stolitsa, including the libel suits. In addition, journalists reported being harassed and intimidated, and earlier in June, Kim said his car was deliberately set on fire in a guarded parking garage.
While Kim lost in court, the shutdown prompted outcry from press advocates. The World Association of Newspapers, the World Editors Forum, and the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights, in direct letters to President Askar Akayev, voiced their concern about "the intimidation acts" directed at Moya Stolitsa. The appeal also called on officials to let the newspaper publish without government interference.
Kim spoke with EurasiaNet by telephone on his paper's final day.
EurasiaNet: Why was Moya Stolitsa closed?
Kim: Moya Stolitsa existed for only two years. The registration certificate was received exactly two years ago. However, the first issue was published only on November 6, five months later. During two years we have been working for just 14 months. The reason for that is pretty simple - this is the fate of all independent mass media in developing countries. As soon as they step over the so-called "allowed framework" and criticize government policy they immediately start having problems. And we had problems probably because we touched a very sensitive issue - the family business [alleged government corruption].
The total amount of libel court cases from various governmental institutions and officials has reached 32. The amount of money for moral damage accounts for $95,000. You understand that for the newspaper with $15,000 of monthly revenue this is an unbearable burden. Everybody understands that the real goal was to shut down the newspaper in a seemingly legal way. It is very hard for the government to openly close the newspaper while democratic human rights are widely declared, and there is seemingly no violation of freedom of speech or independence of mass media in Kyrgyzstan. Thus, the overwhelming influx of libel suits and the officials' accusations is a way to legally close the newspaper.
EurasiaNet: How do you think the shut-down of Moya Stolitsa will influence mass media as a whole?
Kim: Very negatively, only because we are the only newspaper so far that evaluates the political and economic situation in Kyrgyzstan professionally. What is most important, we are giving professional economic analysis. All the analytical articles written by Moya Stolitsa have [evidently] gotten on the nerves of the government. Thus, the government does not need information that unveils the real condition of affairs in the economy of the country.
EurasiaNet: On your web site you announced that June 13 was the last day of Moya Stolitsa's operation. However, there are reports that the Advokat newspaper will continue your mission.
Kim: Basically, this is true. We have chosen the way as follows: today, according to the decision of the court, the editorial office of Moya Stolitsa is closed because the editorial office was in charge of paying all the bills coming from suits. Without waiting for the court declaration of our bankruptcy, we ourselves decided to officially announce that we are closing the newspaper. Therefore, the whole staff of Moya Stolitsa went to work with Advokat. But we are standing all together. We plan on publishing another newspaper and got the license for publishing way in advance. We are compelled to take this way.
EurasiaNet: The international human rights community voiced grave concern over the intimidation of Moya Stolitsa' correspondents and your recent allegation about the deliberate arson of your car.
Kim: This incident is in the chain of the general pressure on our journalists, and here particularly on me as a chief editor of Moya Stolitsa. All of what happened is completely outrageous. I have no intention to prove who committed that.
By Elina Karakulova,
EurasiaNet, June 18, 2003

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