Kyrgyzstan: Court Finds Against Newspaper, Activist, Orders Them to Pay $260,000
In a blow against press freedom in Kyrgyzstan, a court has found in favor of the prosecutor’s office in a libel suit against a newspaper and a prominent rights activist.
The court in Bishkek on June 30 ruled to find Zanoza.kg news website guilty on two counts of besmirching the honor of President Almazbek Atambayev, to whom they must now pay 15 million som (around $215,000).
In the same ruling, the court found that Cholpon Dzhakupova had smeared Atambayev by stating, during a roundtable, that the president was a “personality with maniacal inclinations” who should “read the constitution.” Dzhakupova was ordered to pay 3 million som ($43,000) in damages.
Dzhakupova’s comments were carried by Zanoza.kg. The website admitted that it had slightly misquoted Dzhakupova, although the activist said she had no recriminations and that the publication had conveyed the basic gist of her remarks accurately.
The co-founder of Zanoza.kg. Naryn Aiyp, who also penned the offending piece, said the verdict against them constituted “hounding of the media.”
“None of the judges tried to establish the facts or pass a fair judgement. They similarly carried out the orders of the authorities,” Aiyp told EurasiaNet.org.
Dzhakupova said the government is evidently bent on silencing all people with alternative views.
“This was a predictable verdict. This is about the preparations for the upcoming elections. It is a terrorizing tactic,” she said, referring to vote scheduled for October.
When asked what moral damages Atambayev had suffered as a result of critical and offensive articles, the prosecutor, Ruslan Abdyrahman, said that the president had “endured worsening health and has aged considerably over the past seven years” as a result of critical coverage.
Zanoza.kg was also found to have defamed Atambayev in a second piece from 2015.
Aiyp and Zhakupova have said they will appeal.
But there is more in store for Zanoza.kg, which is facing a total of five separate libel cases filed not by Atambayev directly, but by the prosecutor’s office on his behalf.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.