Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have lashed out at social media and, in particular, how it is being used to say mean things about President Almazbek Atambayev.
In recent days there have been two reports of Facebook users being called in for a stern talk with the security services for things they have written — or might have written — about Atambayev. Nobody has been charged, yet.
There was a surge of hubbub on social media last week when news broke of one man being reportedly grilled over suspicions he is the mind behind Murch, an anonymously run Facebook account that serves as a repository for lowbrow political humour.
Jomart Jamgyrchiyev, a native of Issyk-Kul region, was hauled in by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, at the beginning of the month in Karakol along with several relatives. Investigators told him that photos that appeared on Murch, which has around 6,000 subscribers, had been linked to his computer’s IP address.
Although it is not clear that the photos concerned Atambayev directly, most of Murch’s fairly infantile jibes do. A recent post that garnered a lot of attention, for instance, featured a photoshopped image that showed Atambayev squatting on a toilet.
The ever-vigilant authorities then followed up with a similar swoop on December 7, according Temirlan Ormukov, who claims he was called into the General Prosecutor’s office to discuss a poem he wrote about Atambayev on Facebook.
The Kyrgyz-language poem is titled “The leader's heart ached,” a sly reference to the reported heart problems that saw Atambayev receive treatment in Turkey and Russia earlier this year.
Neither the prosecutor nor the GKNB has made any attempt to deny the claims and has instead asserted that combing the internet for insults related to Atambayev is part of their job description.
When asked by Atambayev ally and MP Irina Karamushkina what he was doing to combat personal insults against the president at a recent parliamentary session, GKNB deputy chief Rustam Mamasadykov said his institution would “respond to negative statements, monitor, determine and transfer [the information] to the General Prosecutor for further investigation."
Mamasadykov argues that the president, the flag and the anthem are the symbols of the state, and accordingly deserve round-the-clock protection from the same organ responsible for keeping terrorism at bay. "Insults against them are punishable according to the law,” Mamasadykov said in comments widely picked up by Kyrgyz media.
Others are suggesting that the recent moves against social media users are simply part of a repressive government agenda that has been brewing for some time.
Adil Turdukulov, an opposition figure known for his virulent criticism of Atambayev, said on December 7 that he is being sued for more than $70,000 for offending the “honor and dignity” of one of a number of supposedly power-wielding former Atambayev bodyguards, whom he referred to as a “killer” in a 2015 Facebook post.
Speaking of the suit launched by Erkin Mambetaliev, a convicted criminal, who unlike at least two other former members of Atambayev’s security detail has no formal position in the government, Turdukulov told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service: “I think that [the court case] is a planned government action to suppress and squeeze social networks. The next [victim] might be any other internet user, who is simply writing an opinion on the internet.”