If the intention of Kyrgyzstan’s authorities was to destroy a prominent independent media outlet by suing it for libel, then top officials in Bishkek should crack open the champagne.
A co-founder of Zanoza.kg, the journalist Naryn Aiyp, announced on July 6 that the website would likely close as a result of the legal cases mounted against it by the General Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of President Almazbek Atambayev.
A court in Bishkek on June 30 ruled to find Zanoza.kg news website guilty of besmirching Atambayev’s honor and ordered it to pay 15 million som (around $215,000). In a further ruling for a separate instance of purported libel of the president earlier this month, the court ordered the website to pay a further $43,000. Yet another case is pending.
Aiyp said that the publication is appealing the verdicts, but that he and his colleagues have no illusions the previously decisions will be overturned or that their final upcoming libel case will go their way.
“We are not waiting around to see what the city court says and so we have already started making preparations for the closure of the site,” he was cited as saying by 24.kg news agency.
Aiyp has meanwhile begun publishing articles written by Zanoza.kg on his own personal website, narynaiyp.com.
Kyrgyzstan has long enjoyed a reputation as an island of relative media freedom in the region, but the situation has notably worsened in the last year or so. The country fell by four spots to 89th in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2017. The watchdog singled out Atambayev in particular for his role in chilling the environment and drew attention to his frequent “verbal attacks on critical media.”
In the view of many political commentators, the clamor for smashing independent media outlet is attributable to the upcoming presidential elections in October. The rationale being that the government is eager to deter excessively lively reporting around that period to ensure the avoidance of all and any discontent and unrest.