Bishkek, 1 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Internet sites of opposition media outlets remain blocked throughout the country.
That's the situation two days after parliamentary elections that saw pro-government candidates generally fare well.
The crackdown came ahead of the 27 February vote. On 24 February, Radio Azattyk, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz-language broadcaster, was blocked from transmitting on medium wave, but remained on the air on FM in three cities, including Bishkek and Osh.
In January, the independent newspaper "Jany ordo" lost a court case and had to pay a fine of around $700. Another paper -- "Moya stolitsa-novosti" (MSN) -- is facing a potentially larger fine if President Askar Akaev follows through on his threat to file a lawsuit.
"Our president couldn't stand [the paper] and so he filed a lawsuit [against 'MSN']. It is not because the problems of the country are being solved, but because his family was a subject of the [criticism]. This is the country we live in."
Roza Otunbaeva, a co-leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, spoke to RFE/RL after a rally on 28 February in Bishkek held in defense of free media. "Here in Bishkek, Azattyk is still heard, but 'Moya stolitsa' and [another paper], 'Res Publica,' face enormous pressures," Otunbaeva said. "Our president couldn't stand [the paper] and so he filed a lawsuit [against 'MSN']. It is not because the problems of the country are being solved, but because his family was a subject of the [criticism]. This is the country we live in."
"Res Publica" is still publishing, but its Editor in Chief Zamira Sydykova has been threatened by a criminal inquiry by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev. Tanaev is pursuing the paper for publishing information about him allegedly organizing a secret meeting on how to eradicate the opposition.
On 22 February, two independent websites, gazeta.kg and kyrgyz.us, announced they were the target of an apparent campaign to embarrass and discredit them.
A number of Internet users outside of the country say they received spam e-mail messages allegedly sent by gazeta.kg and kyrgyz.us. The first message contained an appeal to register on the website kyrgyz.us with a promise to obtain child pornography. The second e-mail message, allegedly sent by gazeta.kg, contained a message about erotic DVDs.
It's not clear who might be trying to embarrass the websites. Both sites have denied they are the sources of the e-mail messages.
The Kyrgyz media have traditionally been regarded as the freest in Central Asia and there still are media outlets that give out alternative information.
"Res Publica," for example, includes on the top of its front page the number of how many days Askar Akayev has left in power. "Res Publica" presumes he will step down when his term ends on 30 October.
Ernis Mamyrkanov, the director of the Osh-based organization the Osh Media Resource Center, told RFE/RL that in the early days of independence, Kyrgyz media enjoyed more freedom than media in neighboring countries. However, he said lately there has been an attempt to silence the press because it is critical of the government.
"All [the latest incidents with independent media outlets] show that authorities are trying to limit freedom of speech," Mamyrkanov said. "But if in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, the media were put within certain limits and couldn't report anything outside those limits, in Kyrgyzstan, the authorities are trying to create new limits."
An independent political analyst from Osh, Ganijon Kholmatov, told RFE/RL that economic conditions and pressure from political groups make it difficult for the media to operate independently. "Can journalists stand in between two sides [the government and opposition] and survive?" Kholmatov asked. "They haven't found an economic ground for that. Economic factors make them choose one of two sides of the barricade. If they would try and stand on the barricade, they can be shot by both sides."
Ernis Mamyrkanov agrees. He said the government has many ways to control the media. However, he says, the people have already tasted freedom and will not want to go back. "But I think, it wouldn't work because both journalists and the people, having already had a sense of freedom, would not put up with what the authorities are doing right now," Mamyrkanov said. "You can't put the genie back into the bottle. Today's pickets, demonstrations and protest meetings prove that the people know the price of freedom of speech."
Sydykova and Mamyrkanov say the opposition will continue their protests against the harassment of the media despite the difficulty to distribute independent information throughout the country.For news, background, and analysis on Kyrgyzstan's 27 February parliamentary elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005".