Lawsuit Against RFE/RL’s Kyrgyzstan Service Called Off
Kyrgyzstan’s General Prosecutor on May 31 suspended its libel lawsuit against RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk, two weeks after a request to do so issued by President Almazbek Atambayev.
Atambayev is not by rights entitled to order prosecutors to initiate or suspend investigations, and his instructions were offered in the form of advice, but the development nonetheless raises concerns anew about the independence of Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary.
The 20 million Kyrgyz som ($290,000) suit against Azattyk was filed in March on Atambayev’s behalf in response to a report relaying allegations leveled against the president by a prominent political opponent. Another news website, Zanoza.kg, was also made a target of lawsuits, but that case remains in force. Rights activists have likewise been hit with libel lawsuits following their criticism of Atambayev.
The opening of the Azattyk lawsuit precipitated a hasty visit to Bishkek by RFE/RL president Tom Kent, who held talks with Atambayev in an effort to seek a peaceable resolution to the situation. The call for the lawsuit to be dropped was issued six weeks later in what Atambayev said was his recognition that the broadcaster was producing more “balanced and considered radio and print coverage.”
Against the backdrop of all this, there have also been some personnel changes at Azattyk. In April, in the wake of Kent’s visit, the director of the service, Sultan Kanazarov, resigned his post, reportedly of his own volition. He had been in the job since 2013. Aizada Kasmaliyeva, a former TV anchor with the broadcaster, took over as director of the service on May 1.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.