A court in Kyrgyzstan has set a precedent alarming to freedom of speech advocates by ruling against a political activist in a defamation suit for a post he wrote on Facebook.
Bishkek’s Oktyabrsky district court on January 5 ruled that Mavlyan Askarbekov should publish an apology on his Facebook page to member of parliament Dastan Bekeshev and leave it online for the duration of one month.
The start of this episode dates back to July, when Askarbekov penned an attack against the visually impaired MP for what he said was his undue interference in the activities of the Kyrgyz Association for Blind and Deaf People.
“When I spoke [at an association meeting], Bekeshev started insulting me and had me kicked out. He did not respond to my questions about the legitimacy of his actions and did not let me say a word,” Askarbekov wrote in his original post.
Askarbekov is a well-known figure in youth nationalist circles and first came to prominence in the wake of the April 2010 uprising.
In August, Bekeshev filed a defamation suit against Askarbekov, saying the activist needed to be “reined in” over his false accusations.
Opposition activist Adil Turdukulov called the court’s ruling unlawful.
“This [lawsuit] is a continuation of a systemic policy of suppression of freedom of speech. It is no accident that it was Bekeshev who the filed lawsuit, when it was he that previously proposed bringing in additional controls over online media and social networks,” Turdukulov said.
Bekeshev made proposals in October for legislation regulating the media to be amended so as to intensify official oversight of online media. The MP was also highly critical of the practice among some news agencies in Kyrgyzstan that host press conferences upon payment and accordingly publish statements made at those events — what Bekeshev called the “nonsense people say at press conferences” — as hard news.
While this is the first time anybody in Kyrgyzstan has lost a civil case over a Facebook posting, there have been earlier instances of people falling foul of the law because of their social media habits.
Last year, a resident of the southern city of Kara-Suu, Abdullo Nurmatov, was given a one-year suspended sentence on charges of possessing extremist material.
Nurmatov came to the attention of the police after he “liked” a photo posted online of a local imam, Rashot Kamalov, who was himself on trial on charges of extremism. Following a search of Nurmatov’s house, police claimed to have unearthed the offending materials.