A court in Kyrgyzstan’s capital on August 22 ordered the closure of the Sentyabr (September) television station, which is linked to the party of recently jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev.
The General Prosecutor’s Office argued that the broadcaster was guilty of disseminating “extremist material,” although the station’s representatives in court were not granted time to study the materials of the court case.
Instead of officially informing Sentyabr management of its intention to seek the station’s closure, the prosecutor’s office called in to the station’s breakfast magazine show and told them that a court hearing was to take place in two hours.
Sentyabr spokesperson Kaiyrgul Omurkanova said the station’s management had no idea the prosecutor’s office was making moves against them and they failed to even appoint a lawyer in time for the court hearing.
“We had no lawyer, and no senior management, as they are on business trips out in the regions. We arrived here not suspecting that we would find such lawlessness,” Omurkanova said.
Omurkanova said the reason given for the closure were comments made on air in 2015 by a former head of police in the southern city of Osh, Abdyldy Kaparov. In those remarks, Kaparov is said to have made corruption allegations against Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who stepped down as prime minister this week so as to devote himself full time to campaigning for October’s presidential election.
Kaparov, an ally of Tekebayev, was himself in June sentenced to four years in prison for “inciting the overthrow of the government.”
Omurkanova told reporters after the court hearing that the decision against their station was particularly unfair as Kaparov’s remarks were actually broadcast on another another juridically unrelated channel called Sentyabr. That channel, she said, was based in the town of Jalal-Abad and was formally dissolved in 2016.
The Sentyabr which has been ordered to close has been operating since 1999 as a de facto media operation for Ata-Meken.
The forced shuttering of the television station combines two favored strategies adopted by the current ruling administration: going after non-state media and opposition politicians.
In July, sparky news website Zanoza.kg was found guilty of libel on five counts and ordered to pay 27 million som ($390,000) in total. The website had attracted the wrong kind of attention for its impudent reporting on President Almazbek Atambayev.
And in mid-August, Tekebayev, the leader of Ata-Meken was sentenced to eight years in jail — reduced to four-and-a-half years as a result of an amnesty — at the end of a corruption trial that his supporters argue was a politically motivated charade.