Cholpon Orozobekova, editor in chief of the leading independent newspaper in Kyrgyzstan, “De Facto,” has left the country and is seeking political asylum in a European country.
She was forced to emigrate with her husband -- also a well-known journalist in Kyrgyzstan -- and their two small children because of several criminal charges
against her. She fled, in fact, not because of legal persecution but because of constant threats made against her and out of fear for the safety of her family.
Orozobekova, 33, worked as a freelancer for RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service
from 2002-2007, often writing touchingly about the lives of ordinary people in Kyrgyzstan.
"I’m not afraid of their threats; the authorities want to stop our newspaper's reporting on corruption and nepotism in the country's top echelons," Orozobekova told her colleagues. "Some influential people sent an ultimatum -- that I had to cooperate with them, to keep publishing our newspaper but with completely different content. I refused to do so, so we’ll see.”
"De Facto" was launched in March 2007 and in a very short time became the most popular Kyrgyz-language newspaper in the country.
Several NGOs reported in a joint statement released last month in Bishkek that nine journalists and human rights activists from Kyrgyzstan have received or have sought political asylum in the West in the last two years, including Orozobekova. Two of the journalists -- Kairat Birimkulov and Turat Bektenov -- had been severely beaten and constantly threatened by unknown people. Others were facing prison terms for participating in opposition meetings and protests.
Kyrgyz journalists were deeply saddened in October 2007 when investigative journalist Alisher Saipov
, 26, was shot dead in Osh, the country’s second-biggest city.
"It’s not easy to live when somebody keeps calling you and reminding you that you have to think about your small kids who are playing outside, and your spouse, who just drove away from home,” one of the journalists who sought asylum said in an e-mail.
The Kyrgyz say, “You can cut off a head but not a tongue,” which means you can take away a life but not the freedom to speak. It seems as if old traditions are being forgotten.
Former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev was a master at speaking sweetly, but the gap between his nice words and his tough actions became so huge that one day -- March 24, 2005 -- people rose up and forced him to run from the country.
The current authorities are different -- they speak and act harshly. But how long will people let them?